‘Re/Member’ review – Japanese time-loop slasher is almost forgettable

Horror has utilized the time-loop device with great success over the years, largely because the genre has urgent, pre-installed stakes like no other. A recent example is the Happy Death Day series, and before that was the lesser seen Triangle. Now comes Re/Member, a Japanese teen-horror movie based on Welzard‘s manga Body Search (Karada Sagashi). In Netflix’s latest acquisition, six hapless high-schoolers are doomed to live one day over and over until they can finish a supernatural game.

After the unmistakably sinister opening scene shows a child meeting the sharp end of an ax, the audience is hit with a montage of non-Japanese footage and newspaper clippings that lay out the rules for Body Search. The game in question then begins with protagonist Asuka (Kanna Hashimoto) coming across a child at school, asking her to find her body. From there the movie introduces the other unfortunate teens doomed to relive this particular Wednesday until they can reassemble the unknown victim’s remains.

Every night, Asuka and her unlikely teammates scour the campus in search of the dead child’s body parts. Their progress isn’t undone with every reset, but someone called the Red Person makes their task feel almost impossible. The bloodied young girl comes after the contestants, brutally murdering them until the last life taken restarts the entire process.

Like with other similar stories, the constant rebooting can lead to fatigue on the audience’s part. Re/Member abbreviates the whole process of characters questioning their déjà vu and so on, but the repetition is no less tiring. It doesn’t help that the characters themselves aren’t all that interesting to begin with. Asuka is defined by her pathetic disposition, and there are times the movie almost matched her lack of spirit. Then there are the usual suspects in these “from different walks of life” kinds of movies; the jock, the emo, the nerd, overachiever and the bad girl are all accounted for. They each practice heroics to make them more likable, but that’s as deep as their individual personalities go.

While another time-loop movie might fixate on the logistics of its temporal dilemma, Re/Member focuses on the journey. This story also glosses over explanations in favor of thrills and superficial drama. That choice might not work for everyone, but Eiichirō Hasumi‘s movie knows its strengths. The nocturnal gameplay produces a handful of nightmarish sequences where the teens are hunted down by the Red One. It’s a more concentrated version of the slasher formula. These scenes are generous with the bloodletting, and the eye-catching special effects elevate the movie’s overall entertainment value.

Once the contestants are almost at the finish line, the movie tests the audience’s patience in the most obnoxious way imaginable. The decision was obviously made to prolong the drama and make the conclusion more climactic, but really it comes across as forced. The script as a whole could have used more fine-tuning.

Re/Member works best when resting on its horror aspects rather than the actual drama. Even by manga standards the shoehorned romance isn’t compelling. The game itself is by and far the most intriguing element here, though not enough of its mythos is clearly stated by the movie’s end. Maybe a sequel is in order. Nevertheless, J-Horror is in need of new blood, and with a few tweaks or maybe a shift to television,  Re/Member has the potential for an exciting new franchise.

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