Takashi Miike has the most scandalous imagination of any Japanese director today, but anyone who thinks that the maker of the sick-joke nightmare Audition is too dangerous to go Hollywood should see One Missed Call, a thriller that demonstrates that he’s got the facility — and maybe even the desire — to do so. Just consider the clever yet slavishly familiar commercial premise. Sparked by an eerie ringtone that sounds like a Victorian music box, your cell phone records a message from three days into the future. When you play the message back, it’s your own voice… the instant before you die. The countdown thus begins to that shivery moment of inevitability when you are plunged off a bridge and onto a speeding train, sucked to the bottom of an elevator shaft, or what have you. This hybrid of Scream and Ringu only made me realize how much Ringu borrowed from Scream, and as if that weren’t enough, there’s a long-haired Kabuki ghost that might have slithered out of the Ju-On series.
One Missed Call is so unoriginal that the movie could almost be a parody of J-horror tropes, yet Miike, for a while at least, stages it with a dread-soaked visual flair that allows you to enjoy being manipulated. The best sequence reflects his taste for inspired excess: A tabloid TV show latches on to the latest victim-in-waiting and proceeds to broadcast her final minutes live, right from the studio. What makes the sequence funny, as well as gripping, is that the show is treated as the trivial exploitation scuzz it is, even as the poor girl moans and shrieks and cowers in all-too-realistic terror.
After that bona fide peak of Miikean outrage, however, One Missed Call has nowhere to go. There’s a great deal of backstory about the ghost; personally, I prefer my one-dimensional scare tactics when they aren’t gussied up with naggingly vague psychological profiles. One Missed Call isn’t the first J-horror spectacle to drown its spookiness in murk, and it probably won’t be the last. An American remake is already in the works, and though Miike isn’t scheduled to direct it, you’d have to be more of a pulp purist than I am not to be curious about what he could do with a major Hollywood budget and a studio — does it exist? — that would let him go a little bit wild.