Written by: jmh314
Am I pretty? That is the question that is haunting a Japanese town and leading to the disappearance of local children. Well at least thats what you think the deadly question is before things get lost in translation and dont make sense. And thus is the start of the downfall in the Japanese horror film Carved. Carved starts off with a very simple premise and story but then for some reason seems to get lost in it's own translation and takes a turn for the worse. What is left is an average Japanese horror release that has only one or two memorable aspects before it blurs in with many other supernatural horror films from the Far East.
The story of Carved seems like it will be the glue that holds the film together. The film starts off with school children talking about the legend of the Slit Mouthed Woman. Legend has it that for 30 years a lady who's mouth is slicked ear to ear stalks and kidnaps children. The spirit of the slit mouthed woman would ask "Am I Pretty?" when approaching her next victim and the answer would often lead to their doom. Dressed in a surgical mask and a long brown trench coat, the spirit of the slit mouth woman is the type of urban legend kid's only feared. Unfortunately for the school children, it appears the slit-mouthed woman may be real and has come out for revenge.
A young boy is kidnapped in a park witnessed only by his friends who described the attacker as someone who appeared to be the mysterious spirit. With the town fearing the worst, they let school out early and travel in groups to return the kids to their parents. One young girl Mika does not want to go home with her mother because she gets abused. She instead wants to stay with her teacher Ms Yamashita. While with Ms Yamashita, Mika gets frightened when her teacher raises her voice prompting young Mika to run off. Ms Yamashita finds Mika just in time to see her taken off by what appears to be the slit-mouthed woman's spirit. Ms Yamashita vows to find Mika and not let anything else bad happen to her.
Ms Yamashita is joined in her efforts by a fellow teacher Mr. Matsuzaki. He first approaches her when with a picture of a young woman. Ms Yamashita says this looks like a normal version of the slit-mouthed woman. Mr Matsuzaki was afraid of that and explains it is a picture of his mother from 30 years ago. He also explains he can hear the spirit say "Am I Pretty?" in his head before the kidnappings occur. Mr Matsuzaki says he thinks he can track down the slit-mouthed woman by following the voice he hears. Together Mr Matsuzaki and Ms Yamashita set out to find the spirit and stop it in order to save any further children from harm and to find young Mika. Things begin to take odd twists the closer they get to the spirit, but do they have what it takes to stop the slit-mouthed woman before it's too late and the bodies pile up?
The story seems simple enough that it would hold the film together, but about half way through it takes a weird turn. The phrase uttered by the slit-mouthed woman is determined not to be "Am I Pretty?" and the new phrase just doesn't make sense. Why would Mr Matsuzaki hear the one phrase in his head but then realize it was something totally different? And why do the people who encounter the slit-mouthed woman hear "Am I pretty?" if thats not the true statement? To me when this is revealed midway through the movie and it begins to try and take a dramatic twist, it loses itself.
Despite th stories flaws it does have some things it does well. The cinematography looked very well done. Flashback scenes has a bit of a haze to them to set them apart, and some of the shots in a dark abandoned house looked very creepy. The special effects were above average. The gore and blood wasn't anything special but it was the work on the slit-mouthed woman that added some flair. The slits on the mouth looked realistic and when the slit-mouthed woman opened her mouth, you would see everything inside of it because of the ultra-wide mouth the slits created. This was pretty creepy in it's own way and looked really realistic. I always wonder how they can do makeup work to look like someone has such a huge disfigured mouth but keep it so it blends like a real mouth opening, just much much wider.
The acting in Carved is sub par. No one rally does anything to stand out in this film. The characters have back stories to try and add emotion and depth to the characters, but I really found myself not caring about any of their actions. Everything came off kind of bland in regards to the actors trying to give there characters any sort of memorable edge. Director Koki Shiraishi probably could have done a better job to get more out of his actors. He is relatively inexperienced as a director, so I only hope his later ventures can show that he can push the limits of his actors abilities. But who knows, maybe he did push their limits but the actors limits just may not be very good ones.
Its a shame that this film fell flat. The start with the whole build up of the urban legend was a good way to go and the character of the slit-mouthed woman was creepy and original. But mid-movie why change things up and make the story into something much deeper? It just seemed like it didn't know where it wanted to go, so they coped out and decided to connect the slit-mouthed woman to the characters in an odd way. The potential was there but ultimately fell victim to it's own shortcomings. Carved definately isn't the best Asian horror movie I have seen, but it isn't the worst either. If they would have picked a better way to go with the story mid-film and got a little better performances out of their actors, I think Carved could have been much better than it is. Instead we are left with a slightly above average affair that gets lost in the translation of itself and it's only appeal rests only on the intriguing yet often repetitive aspects of the slit-mouthed woman.