The first time I heard about One Missed Call was while going through list after list online of supposedly good horror movies. One Missed Call was mentioned as a Japanese horror movie parody, which intrigued me. At the time though, I was looking for horror from somewhere else than Asia. Eventually, when a friend of mine came over with a USB-stick containing said movie, I couldn’t resist watching it any longer. Here’s how it turned out.
From the start I was pondering how hard it would be for a European, or a Western person in general, to spot Japanese parody elements. As it happens, it’s rather tricky. I love many things the Japanese put on screen, and having watched anime for years now I have a pretty solid grasp on Japanese humour – or so I thought. Japanese shows and movies always contain a wonderful degree of whimsy and wackiness from a Western perspective, which makes it a particular challenge to understand nuances of satire. Therefore, I pretty much gave up on trying to watch One Missed Call as a parody and concentrated on being scared, which worked reasonably well.
The central element of horror in this case is getting a message on your phone, either voicemail or a picture, depicting your last moments. The message also communicates the date and time of impending doom. Therefore the movie is meant to bring fear to the everyday life, as is the case with several contemporary horror movies. The Ring was about making you terrified of you own television, Paranormal Activity about newly built houses being scary as well, and Kairo (Pulse) about turning the Internet into a ghastly portal for dead souls to return to this world. Especially Asian movies have made an effort to create an eerie atmosphere even in a tiny apartment surrounded by people due to being part of an enormous apartment building. Every minute closet and cupboard can conceal a ghost, every bath tub can sprout an endless parade of soggy black-haired child ghosts and every piece of technology can be harnessed by the spirit world and used to kill the living. In this category, One Missed Call serves its purpose: it brings menacing spirits to the contemporary urban life of innocent schoolkids who have to face their deaths in spite of knowing the exact moment beforehand. Another source of unease there: knowledge does not help, you will die regardless! For a person living in our time of rationalism that is perhaps the most terrifying concept of all.
J-horror scare tactics almost always work on me, and they mostly worked this time as well. The head ghost of the piece was sufficiently elusive (until the end) and the creepy zombie was adequately slow and mindless. Those words actually describe the scariness of the film well: sufficient and adequate. I got seriously freaked out by a disembodied and nonchalant hand randomly resting on a shoulder, but then again the actual ghostly attacks were a bit ludicrous, presumably in the spirit of spoofing. There’s also a sequence set in an abandoned hospital that makes my spoofy senses tingle.
There is also some societal criticism in this piece, but it’s done in a way that’s more than cliché by now: once the press catches on the mobile phone messages of death, the next victim has to face her fate live on television. The heartless media circus that is built around her awful plight is a motif that has been done to death, which is why I suspect it is yet another spoof element in the movie, making fun of such a hyperbolic view on the corruption of the media. Would you look at that, I think I actually found some parody elements in the film despite of my distrust in my own capabilities!
All in all, One Missed Call is definitely worth the watch for anyone who has a soft spot for J-horror. If I’m not the only one unsure of the nature of Japanese parody, I would advice watching this movie with an open mind for the treatment of clichés and exaggerated situations. As far I could decipher, therein lies the satirized treatment of the contemporary horror movie. The ending is also delightfully vague, leaving you with an annoying but satisfyingly nagging feeling of dread.