Three aspiring young Japanese models are on their very first fashion shoot at an abandoned school one hot summer day. Without warning, strange events begin occurring around the set that causes the models and photo crew to question their sanity, as one by one they begin to die agonizing and painful deaths that are seemingly caused by none other than themselves.
Stories of doppelgängers can be found all over the world. The reason why and how they appear may vary, but almost all the stories have one thing in common: seeing one, be it yourself or someone you know, is always a bad omen. Indeed, most stories involving these sinister look-alikes present them as harbingers of death, either acting as a warning of things to come or as a ghostly apparition of someone who has (unbeknownst to those seeing it) already died. These age-old concepts are the key focus of Issei Shibata’s 2002 film Alter Ego. It is a cheap, made for TV production, with not much going for it story wise or on the visual side of things, but it does offer a semi-interesting basis for its story.
In the centre of the story is three aspiring young models doing a photoshoot in an empty school building. As if a creepy producer (money man, organiser, whatever he is) and a sketchy photographer were not enough, the girls soon find a whole other world of trouble when one of the crew members leaps to their death from the school window. To make things worse, the producer claims that he saw two of the same man right before his death and it was this uncanny encounter that made him end his own life. While this story is a little too much to swallow at first, it very quickly becomes clear that not only was he telling the truth, but every single person on the shoot seems to be in danger of these ominous doubles.
I rather liked the basic concept of Alter Ego. The idea of the uncanny, of encountering oneself, has always fascinated and terrified me, and I have always felt it has enormous horror potential if executed in the right manner. “If” being the key word here. Sadly, Alter Ego does not file under that “if”. The basic elements are there: isolated location, a dark secret someone is harbouring, and unlikable people who mostly get what they deserve. Even with the short running time of only 63 minutes, the story had the potential to be a quirky little kaidan tale, where the bizarre overtakes the scary, but in a good way. Unfortunately, the focus here is not in building any kind of atmosphere, scary, peculiar, or otherwise, but simply just get as many people as possible killed within the hour.
This, as you might have guessed, only results in a lot of headless running around and most of the film’s running time is taken up by the characters rushing from one room to another while they all get killed by their evil twins one by one. No ambience, no suspense. This is not helped by the low production values and low-quality special effects. The made for TV look would not really bother me too much, but I found it hard to get over the laughable CGI. I have stated time and time again; if you cannot afford decent CGI, just do not use it. Use make-up, use prosthetics, use the actors natural acting talent, use anything but effects that only make things look laughable. It spoils the scares and only does the film harm.
All that being said, Alter Ego does have couple of nice scenes in it, and the ones where the filmmakers have opted to use actors (shot from behind of slightly out of focus) work considerably better than the once with CGI. The film also offers a nice little twist in the end and a final scene that could almost be described as creepy. Had the rest of it been executed with same gusto, Alter Ego could have perhaps been something worthwhile. Probably still nothing award winning or earthshattering, but at very least a damn decent little TV film. As it stands, I would no go out of my way to find this one. If you happen by it, have a special interest in doppelgänger films, and some time to kill, maybe give it a go. Otherwise, I would not bother.