Many Asian horror films center on an unrelenting evil force that grows from the murder of an innocent person. While vengeance is often the catalyst, that force soon envelops or contaminates anyone in close proximity, whether good or bad, as it spreads outward. In Carved, the evil grows from a person who's bad to begin with—a refreshing change from the usual Japanese approach, though it's a typical American horror staple: we like our monsters monstrous from the start you know, and our victims less than pure so they sort of deserve what they get.
The unsavory story begins with three kids talking about the slit-mouthed woman as they walk home after class. Indeed, I wish I had a quarter for every time "slit-mouthed woman" was said by someone in the film. Half-way through I stopped counting. An earthquake shakes the town, and releases the spirit of Kuchisake-onna. Before you could gasp "slit-mouthed woman!" she snatches away kid number one. The next day, Mika, the abused-at-home and bullied-at-school kid thinks she's next. Depressed kids often think like that, even in Japan.
Ms. Yamashita, her teacher, walks the students home, and when it comes time to drop Mika off, they start talking. Mika shows the bruises her mom left on her arms, but Yamashita, a reformed abuser herself, yells at Mika for wishing ill on her mom. As Mika runs away—that's right—she's nabbed by the slit-mouthed woman while Yamashita cowers in fear.
Maybe they should have sent Mr. Matsuzaki to take the kids home instead. Strangely, he's not really scared of the slit-mouthed woman (have you started counting how may times I've written "slit-mouthed woman" yet?). But he does keep hearing her voice in his mind, just before she grabs a kid and disappears. The police, not believing Yamashita's supernatural depiction of the kidnapping, think it's someone dressed up as — oh, you know who — so Yamashita and Matsuzaki team up to search for the missing children. When he hears "Am I pretty" again, they jump into his car and race to the home of the slit-mouthed woman's next victim. They show up in the nick of time to watch the slit-mouthed woman grab the poor kid from behind. When she whips out her scissors to do a little trimming on his mouth, Matsuzaki plays WWE SmackDown with her while Yamashita cowers again. Surprisingly, he plunges the scissors into the slit-mouthed woman instead and "kills" her. But not for long.
Up to this point, the pacing is slow and remains that way. Tension doesn't build in this film, and the emotional setpoints that should kick our feelings into gear around certain scenes don't budge one iota. Yet, the storyline remains strangely involving, and a few scenes, while lacking emotional charge from the missing tension-building, will still make you squirm in discomfort.