Reliable J-horror helmer Takashi Shimizu ("The Grudge") makes his second foray into stereoscopic scares, after "The Shock Labyrinth 3D," with "Tormented," a spooktacular that would be more risible, given its premise, if it weren't done so skillfully.

Reliable J-horror helmer Takashi Shimizu (“The Grudge”) makes his second foray into stereoscopic scares, after “The Shock Labyrinth 3D,” with “Tormented,” a spooktacular that would be more risible, given its premise, if it weren’t done so skillfully. Revolving around a disturbed femme and her little brother getting freaked out by someone in a rabbit suit who haunts their dreams, pic makes pro use of 3D further enhanced by stylish lensing from noted d.p. Chris Doyle. “Tormented” should trouble the sleep of a good chunk of its local market, but may face challenges offshore given waning interest in the 3D format.

In the playground of a contempo Tokyo school, a young boy named Daigo (Takeru Shibuya) finds an injured rabbit and kills it with a rock to put it out of its misery, much to the distress of his mute half-sister, Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima), who works at Daigo’s school as a librarian. At home, where Daigo and Kiriko live with their perpetually distracted father (Teruyuki Kagawa), a children’s book illustrator, Daigo starts having bad dreams in which a stuffed rabbit toy he and Kiriko owns becomes life-sized (basically someone in a plush-fabric rabbit suit) and chases him around a creepy, abandoned amusement park. Kiriko tries to save him, but is just as frightened as Daigo, especially when she starts to see her late stepmother Kyoko (Tamaki Ogawa ) in the dreamscape as well.

The kids’ father seems curiously dismissive of Kiriko’s claims that her little brother is in trouble or that Kyoko is back from the dead, and it gradually becomes clear that not all is as it seems with this highly dysfunctional family. Soon the dreams evolve into flashbacks that explain just why Kiriko became mute and is so afraid of the rabbit toy, which just won’t stop coming back despite her efforts to destroy it.

Script credited to Sotaro Hayashi, Daisuke Hosaka and Shimizu lacks the extra layers of meaning and symbolism that make the best kind of horror pics so effective, while genre fans might feel a little frustrated that the pic never makes clear whether the family’s travails are psychological or supernatural in origin. Nevertheless, as a thrill ride, “Tormented” works perfectly adequately, deploying all the usual tricks of the trade — shock cuts, sudden noises, seemingly innocent things developing a sinister life of their own — to startle and disturb auds. Pic’s last big scare in the attic reps a masterclass in suspenseful editing and special effects.

Doyle’s lensing here is more perfunctory than the inspired work he’s best known for, such as his collaborations with Wong Kar Wai and other Asian directors, but there are enough strikingly off-kilter compositions and lurid color tones to mark the work as his. Pic exploits 3D possibilities cannily without resorting to lunging-knife cliches, reaching the high-water mark with a sequence that tips its hat to Robert Siodmak’s “The Spiral Suitcase” (1945), another film about a beleaguered mute femme.

Tormented

Japan

Production

A Phantom Film release of an Ogura Jimusyo Co. production in association with Fortissimo Films. (International sales: Fortissimo, Amsterdam.) Produced by Satoru Ogura, Masayuki Tanishima. Executive producers, Michael J. Werner, Esther Yeung. Directed by Takashi Shimizu. Screenplay, Sotaro Hayashi, Daisuke Hosaka, Shimizu.

Crew

Camera (color, HD, 3D), Christopher Doyle; editor, Zensuke Hori; music, Kenji Kawai; production designer, Noriyoshi Ikeya; costume designer, Emiko Namai; sound (Dolby Digital), Kenji Kawai; supervising sound editor, Yoshikazu Iwanami; 3D supervisor, Tadayuki Ui; special make-up effects supervisor, Yoshihiro Nishimura visual effects supervisor, Tsuyoshi Kazuno; visual effects, Studio Buckhorn; associate producer, Nobuyuki Tanizawa. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 7, 2011. Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Hikari Mitsushima, Teruyuki Kagawa, Takeru Shibuya, Tamaki Ogawa, Nao Omori.

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