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TV Review: Re:Mind (2017-2018)

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“Re:Mind” is a miniseries presented by TVTokyo and Netflix, currently,  in the US the full series is available for streaming on Netflix. I am a big fan of Asian horror, I appreciate the craft of subtle creepiness and complex story lines that Japanese filmmakers, in particular, turn into an art form. So I was pretty excited to have a J-Horror series of thirteen, 23-30 minute episodes on which I could binge over a couple of days.

Yet the series starts out bad. The story begins with a surprise, mystery dinner party, literally mystery and surprise as none of the hooded and drugged guests are sure why or how they are there. Within a minute or so the guests are revealed as being none other than the favorite horror trope – a gaggle of unsuspecting, terrified Japanese school girls. Sounds like a great start but the first episode is not good, the acting is awful, the usual subtle creepiness of Asian horror is replaced by over the top attempts at scariness  (I feel like this was an attempt by Japanese filmmakers to make the series palatable to western tastes) and it falls flat. I was tempted to walk away after the first episode, but I am all for second chances in horror entertainment and I’m glad I stuck around.

By the third episode I was completely hooked on the series and even found myself watching one episode in a doctor’s waiting room because I just wanted to know what would happen next. The girls spend their time trying to figure why they are in fact at this particular party and how they might be able to leave. In turn we get to learn about each girl, her personality, her home life, her personal values and choices.  The acting improved greatly by mid-series and the story is everything good about Japanese film making. You try to continually guess what is happening, who are the culprits and who are the victims or is it all a weird fantasy. The story is incredibly intriguing, even if I thought I had no interest in what teenage girls are up to, I cared about these girls and what their stories were. The mystery kept spinning in different directions and is very good at keeping the viewer pulled in and interested. The craft of subtle, Asian horror finally shows up, the silly schlock could, thankfully, not be sustained – the rats and screaming have cleared up by the third or fourth episode.

“Re:Mind” is very clever in many ways. Aside from spinning out a captivating mystery it plays on some modern issues in a new way. The entire story is based on teenage bullying and figuring out who it comes from, reasons, impact and consequences. Wrapped in that is something all women and teenage girls know about all too well and that’s the concept of “frienemies”, the bigger your group is the more conflict and clashing happens under the guise of “besties”. I’ve actually never seen that portrayed so accurately in film, even if it was a little over the top in delivery at times. It also brings up the darker sides of social media use, social justice warrioring and the concept of doing the right thing. The title “Re:Mind” is also a clever play on words and ideas. I also appreciated that the entire series, other than a few flashbacks, takes place entirely in one room, it’s something that does eventually bring out the best in the actors and the story.

The last episode called “Re: Wind” is one long flashback. It’s a little jumbly and done in a completely different style than the rest of the story. It has more of a teen soap opera and 4th wall blurring feel to it but it does flesh out the story a bit more and gives a clearer picture of several characters but also leaves a little extra mystery lingering just so you don’t leave with a happy feeling.

Despite winning me over there are still some things I didn’t like, there are reasons it won’t be among my favorite horror tv shows. While the acting improves steadily throughout the series it’s still not particularly great. No one ever moved me to tears or any kind of vast emotion, there didn’t seem to be that ability in the actors. There were lots of ideas and bits of intrigue that were kind of just left hanging there and ended up being nothing, instead of those bits cleverly throwing you off the mystery they just cluttered up the story to be honest. I really want to know what phones these girls had because their battery life was amazing. And I am not at all satisfied with the explanation of why or how certain things happened, there was almost no thought that went to explaining how some major plot incidents occurred. And finally,  I wasn’t impressed with the ending. Most Asian horror ends unhappily, if even darkly, but this was not just unhappy and dark but kind flat too. I was genuinely surprised by who the culprit was (finding the answer to that was essentially the entire plot of the movie), but there wasn’t any big bang “what a twist!” moments in the end.

If you are a fan of Asian horror the series is watchable or if you are interested in starting on J-horror this is an easily digestable introduction. If you don’t particularly like Japanese horror or film making, or want to watch something genuinely scary or deeply intriguing then you probably won’t enjoy this in the least. I liked it because the story did pull me in and it did have a great J-horror vibe to sink into (after the first dreadful episode), I can’t say it’s excellent but I’m glad I stuck with the series to the end.

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