Booth, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe views a film about a haunted booth, and writes haunted review...
Shogo is the host of a popular late night call-in radio show for lost lovers. While his studio is being revamped he and his crew are temporarily relocated to the dilapidated studio 6. As the night progresses Shogo learns that the booth is rumoured to be haunted in the wake of another DJ hanging himself while on the air. The phone lines are repeatedly interrupted by an eerie voice and the squeaking sound of metal on metal. Has the curse of studio 6 discovered Shogo's sinister past?
I'd like to pause and allow the reader to appreciate how incredibly stupid The Booth looks on paper. Actually, I'll accentuate it a bit by adding the tag line: ‘When the radio turns on... The Booth turns deadly’. Soak it in. Just when the tired Asian horror genre couldn't possibly become any more contrived they present us with this tripe, right? I mean, really, what's next, a haunted telephone, a haunted videotape, a haunted Internet? It makes me sick.
But wait, what's this? Somehow The Booth, the most asinine sounding J-horror of them all, isn't half bad. By God, I actually enjoyed myself.
The Booth, like most Asian Horror flicks I've seen over the years, good or bad, is basically an episode of The Twilight Zone. There is a set up, a confined situation (if not always space), and a last minute plot twist meant to send the viewer into a reeling state of disbelief. The problem with the vast majority of these films is that they don't contain enough meat to nourish a feature length run-time, which is why one of the finest examples of the genre is the Three...Extremes anthology. Shorter is often better, a concept which could be rooted in the campfire ghost stories of times past. They too had a set up, a confined situation (if not always space), and a plot twist, or ‘boo’ moment. Thankfully, The Booth is just over an hour long, and doesn't over stay its welcome.
I hesitate to even put the film in the horror category. For most of its run time it's more of a paranoid thriller on a small scale. As Shogo feverishly attempts to figure out why he's being targeted by the malevolent sounding spirit the film flashes back to a series of events that would possibly give cause for revenge. The flashbacks are suspenseful because while dealing with the possibilities of foul play, Shogo is on the air, and expected to maintain his cocky profile. This is a fun enough concept to fill out the brief running time, but had it lasted a minute longer I may have felt differently. Basically, what we have here is The Parallax View or The Manchurian Candidate on an incredibly small and personal scale, though of course not as good.
This house of cards would've crumbled quickly if the lead wasn't a solid actor. Thankfully, Ryuta Sato is more or less perfect, and his portrayal of Shogo is equal parts detestable and sympathetic. It's hard to create a character that the audience knows is getting what he deserves while still feeling sorry for him. The sympathy Sato congers actually makes the film butt-clenchingly apprehensive at times, meaning that director and actor allow the audience to enter the mindset of the increasingly anxious lead.
There are going to be some viewers with a taste for horror that are going to be disappointed with the films first final act twist. I was not one of these, and without giving anything away, would have to say that I found it laugh out loud funny. There are going to be other viewers who enjoy the initial twist's effect on the film who will resent the final twist. Again, I am not one of them. Though it may have been a more memorable film without the final twist, the film's eerie black and white opening wouldn't have made any sense. The finale is effective at inducing a cold case of the willies.
The Booth is not a life changing film, or even a particularly great one, but it is tightly crafted, well acted, and entertaining enough to warrant a quick view from modern spook flick fans the world over. I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it, but find little fault against it.
The Booth is another lowish budget flick, and thusly isn't exactly perfect looking. The overall graininess of the transfer is actually kind of nice, and adds texture palpability to the film. Some shots, however, have problems with contrast and edge enhancement. This is an issue I've noticed present in several of Tartan USA's releases. It appears that sharpness is simply set too high, and occasionally the edge enhancement and high contrast, especially on skin, is downright ugly. Turning down the sharpness on the set actually helped, but shouldn't be necessary.
The film is nicely (if not exactly innovatively) colour tinted. The real world is presented in warm browns, Shogo's imagination and memories are coated in cool blues, and the opening flashback is all high grain black and white, except for the DJ's haunted phone, which glows green. The effect is nice and the transfer, despite its other problems, represents the colour coating well.
The Booth isn't quite the overactive audio fiend that most J-horror ghost stories seem to be. This isn't to say that the film's totally without some spooky surround noises, but it's pretty subdued considering the genre. This is a pretty subtle mix, and is mostly dialogue based. Outdoor scenes have a rather spacious ambiance, and there are a few effectively loud scare chords, especially during the last reel. Music is also relatively low-key, with the exception of the end credit song, a sort of power-pop deal with English lyrics that bursts out of the front channels. I should also note that the DTS and Dolby Digital tracks are nearly identical; the DTS has a slight edge on volume.
The special features here are mostly promotionally based, including a making of featurette, two interviews, and a collection of trailers. The making of feature is made up of interviews intercut with behind the scenes footage. It's obviously made as a promotional tool, but offers some cute insight to the filmmaking process, including the arduous, but fun task of finding the vilest wardrobe possible for the lead.
The interview only sections are of the same variety. The ‘On-Air’ interview is exactly what it sounds like, a video recording of a radio interview with the cast and crew, and it's quite short. The Q and A with director and star is a little more in depth, and coupled with the promotional featurette makes for a nice little collection of behind the scenes info. These are followed by the usual Tartan Asia Extreme title trailer collection.
Despite what may be one of the dumbest on-paper concepts I've ever read, The Booth is a fun little thriller. Fans of J-horror chills may be off put due to the fact that there is very little supernatural interaction, but viewers like myself who've tired of the genre's clichés may be pleasantly surprised. The DVD is solid, if not a bit light on extras. Video quality issues can be over looked, and may have something to do with the picture's humble origins rather than a mistake on Tartan's part. Don't judge this book by its cover, but don't expect to fall in love either.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 23rd May 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: DTS 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
Extras: 'The Making of The Booth' Featurette, Q&A with the Director and Star, On-Air Interview with the Filmmakers, Tartan Asia Extreme Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Cast: Ryuta Sato, Maiko Asano, Makoto Ashikawa, Mansaku Ikeuchi, Hijiri Kojima, Masaki Miura
Length: 74 minutes
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