A model shoot in an abandoned, old school turns horrific when death in the form of murderous dopplegangers begins to hunt down the models and the crew.
Alter Ego (A Conjuring School) is being released as a forgotten classic from a master of Japanese horror. That master is director Takashi Shimizu, the maestro behind the Ju-On series and its U.S. counterpart The Grudge. This film first released in 2002 in Japan is finally making it to the States now in 2014. Some things are best left forgotten. Alter Ego is instantly forgettable, a watered-down mess. The film quality is poor, the effects are sub-par and the story is trite and bland. To be fair, the Shimizu is listed as “supervising director” with the directing credits going to Issei Shibata. The film feels made-for-TV with an underdeveloped, undercooked result, poor cinematography, half-baked plot and mediocre acting. It is diluted horror at best.
The plot of Alter Ego involves a mysterious force, supernatural or extraterrestrial or worse, that attacks its victims in the guise of the prey themselves. This often results in the victim being twisted into excruciatingly painful shapes with screams of fear frozen on their faces. To spice things up, the monster’s targets comprise of a trio of beautiful young models and the photographer team as they set up their shoot at an old, abandoned school. As the story continues, after the model witness a gruesome death, the characters begin to realize that the killer or killers can take the shape of any one of them or all of them. Paranoia and fear set in as they are picked of one-by-one.
The J-Horror movement is responsible for some of today’s modern classics in horror. Ringu is perhaps the best known of them, along with Kairo, Tomie, Versus and Audition. Directors such as Akihiro Higuchi, Takashi Miike, Hideo Nakata and many others are continuing to shape the future of horror and world cinema. Takashi Shimizu is also among this list of visionaries. He is most famously known for the Ju-On series which he followed to the States to direct as The Grudge. He is a director with a distinct style, a direct pacing and an unnerving sense of horror and mood. Those qualities are rarely seen here in Alter Ego. In many cases, it feels as if the film is struggling desperately to reach some of the high marks other films of its ilk easily accomplish. The film hobbles along with attempt after failed attempt boring its audience and wasting its young cast. It is difficult to say what Shimizu is responsible for in the film, but with his name featured so prominently on the marketing, the expectation far exceeds the delivery.
The cast includes Nobuko Sakuma, Sena and Chieko Kawabe as the three young models. Each is fine in their roles but none stand out and their efforts are hindered by rough visual effects twisting their faces in hilarious ways that are intended to be frightening. In the end, it all comes across far more silly than scary. The cast includes a few familiar faces in J-Horror such as Hideo Sakaki from both Ju-On, Versus and Godzilla: Final Wars and Taro Suwa from Ju-On, Ring 2 and Machine Girl. In most cases, the actors are far more talented than the material they are given with Sakaki reacting far more frightened than the visuals would dictate and Suwa spiraling into slapstick silliness.
Alter Ego is a forgotten film that is best left to the vaults and dust-covered imports. It is never effective nor noteworthy. At best, the film is a footnote in the film career of Takashi Shimizu. The rudimentary effects and cinematography provide the film with a distinct TV, low-budget flavor that prevents the film from becoming frightening or memorable. Many J-Horror films are able to overcome these kinds of limitations, but Alter Ego cannot. There is a reason this is a forgotten classic. Sadly. The story, while it is interesting and promising, is unimpressive, derivative and passive. Pass on this bland entry and re-watch some of the far superior classics of the genre. Alter Ego needs to remain buried.
2 out of 5