Hypnotized

Don't watch too closely.

UZUMAKI

directed by Higuchinsky

with Eriko Hatsune and Fhi Fan

runs July 12-18 at Grand Illusion

What's the most sinister spiral ever depicted on celluloid? You've gotta be thinking Vertigo, right? Eccentric rookie director Higuchinsky craves an entry in the vortex encyclopedia right next to Hitchcock, and his protracted, tense galleria of comic-book gore affords him that—if little else of substance.

Uzumaki translates as, you guessed it, "Spiral," one of the more amusingly literal screen monikers in recent memory. A sequestered Japanese village is cursed not only with the perpetual hue of pond scum but with—to put it bluntly—a spiral epidemic. Its previously well-adjusted inhabitants are obsessed to the brink of insanity with all manner of spirals, be it the shell of a snail, the engraving on a vase, or a simple fingerprint. A crematory smokestack belches them into the sky. They're the latest craze in uppity high-school girls' haircuts.

All this makes for potent psychological horror, but spirals also appear to be connected to a rash of gruesome, gotta-see-'em-to-believe-'em fatalities. Only teenage steadies Kirie (Eriko Hatsune) and Shuichi (Fhi Fan) realize that something's Just Not Right.

Higuchinsky colors the proceedings with an alternately morbid and goofy surrealism reminiscent of Beetlejuice. He specializes in the kind of intentionally unintentional laughs that David Lynch so expertly mines from hick-town caricatures. The glaring problem, which ultimately precludes the manga-derived Uzumaki from achieving instant cult- classic status, is the dearth of science and/or village folklore to explain the phenomenon and justify our curiosity.

Separated into four distinct chapters, Uzumaki assumes the pretext of linear narrative—but only to a point. Lynch has famously likened his films to paintings, abstractions culled from instinct, not logic. Uzumaki demonstrates both the pros and cons of that approach.

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