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DVD Review: Carved

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Carved, also known as A Slit-Mouthed Woman, is a ghost story from Japan and with a title like that, how can you not be interested? If that isn't enough, how about the DVD cover blurb that claims: "The most frightening supernatural horror film of the year." All right, I am listening, keep talking. Take the next step and flip the case over. The plot description tells of a woman disfigured by a jealous husband whose ghost terrorized a town decades earlier. It also tells of her ghost wearing a surgical mask, asking if she is pretty, and committing violent murder. Wow. This certainly sounds like a winner! The capper has to be the bleak cover featuring a pale, blue-eyed woman with long hair, a slit mouth, and a pair of rusty looking scissors.

What should have been a slam dunk quickly turned into a 90-minute slog to the finish. This movie tested my ability to keep my eyes open through the dullest of films. I will admit that it opened strong and for a while I could be heard trying to convince myself that it would pay off on the opening, that it was slow and lyrical to great effect. It did not work and I was not right.

Let us begin with the good. As Carved opens we listen to kids, young eight-year-old kids (as opposed to the usual teen/young adult fodder), talking about a town legend. It is the legend of the slit-mouthed woman who appears at dusk to abduct children. One young boy even keeps a note pad log of all the facts he has learned about the urban legend. All of the kids take the legend seriously, to the point that some stay out at a park in the hopes of seeing her. It is always a "friend of a friend" who say her until know.

The woman is back and kids are starting to disappear. What was just an urban legend is all too real and the town reacts as such. A teacher, Kyôko Yamashita (Eriko Satô), is a witness to one of these kidnappings, but she is laughed off by police and put on leave by the school. She teams with a fellow teacher, Noboru Matsuzaki (Haruhiko Katô), who seems to know a little more than he initially lets on.

So, now we follow them around for the bulk of the middle portion of the film we follow this dynamic duo around town. They are chasing a voice in Noboru's head that belongs to our ghostly killer. They end up where it all began for one final climactic showdown. Thrilling. Well, not really.

The pacing is lethargic, the acting is sub-par, and the look is washed-out, sparse, and boring. The story never really takes off and it uses child abuse as an exploitative plot device. I hoped that point would pay off, but it doesn't. It is more of a tool used to induce, or attempt to induce, an emotional response.

There is one thing to be afraid of that they do not explicitly mention: the sniffles. It seems our ghostly villain moves through sickness. If someone begins to cough, I would suggest running away from them (not unlike what we do in real life. What? You don't? You have heard of the flu, right? Be afraid!). I guess there really was a scary element!

Oh, I kid, I kid. This movie is not scary, not suspenseful, and plays like PG-13 Hollywood horror made in the hopes of catching some opening weekend cash. It is largely bloodless, tells its story in a straight line, and ends with a stinger.

I almost forgot, in addition to the good opening with the kids, the ending works as well. It gets rather strange and surreal as the final showdown takes place. I am not sure if it was odd way our ghost kept kicking Noboru, or final shot before the credits, but it was enough to get my attention back. If only for a moment.

In the end, this is not a movie I can recommend unless you are having trouble sleeping. I do think the underlying concept is a good one and with a better creative team it could have been something special. On top of that, the plot description has some complete fabrications in it. Better luck next time.

Audio/Video. The image is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a ratio of 1.85:1. I have seen worse disks, but this one is not pretty. Besides the washed-out color palette, there is a distinct lack of detail throughout. Visually, this is very boring to look at. The audio, available in 5.1 and 2.0, is decent. It is not an active track as it is dialogue driven placing most of the sound front and center.

Extras. This Palisades Tartan Video release has a decent selection of extras.

  • The Making of Carved. Fifteen minutes of on the set footage and interview footage.
  • Cast Interview. Five minutes of interview footage with the two leads and the director.
  • Original Trailer. If the goal of a trailer is to make a movie look good, they do a nice job doing it.
  • TV Spots. Three spots are included, all of them do a pretty good job of making it look good. Too bad it isn't.
  • Tartan Asia Extreme New Releases. Trailers are included for Bloody Reunion, Cinderella, Shutter, The Red Shoes, and Koma.

Bottomline. I was really hoping this would be good. If you must watch it, watch the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes. That is all you really need. Man, I really think I need a Red Bull after that.

Not Recommended.

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