A malevolent misfit with a deadly stare dukes it out with the only person immune to his mind-control powers in “Monsterz,” a middling remake of the 2010 South Korean fantasy-thriller “Haunters.” Opting for a more somber tone than that of the comicbook-style original, Japanese horror kingpin Hideo Nakata (“Ring,” “Dark Water”) executes some nifty setpieces and packs plenty of excitement into the final reel, but there’s a fair amount of flab for audiences to negotiate en route to the payoff. Limited regional exposure, slots at fests with appropriate sidebars, and a respectable ancillary life appear likely. Local release via Warner Bros. is set for May 30.
The kicks off in arresting style on a rainy day in 1993. After removing a blindfold from her young son, a distressed mother (Tae Kimura) is badly beaten by her enraged husband (Masaki Miura). His demand that they abandon the monster they’ve produced is cut short when the boy’s brown eyes turn glowing blue; a pointed stare is all it takes to make Dad walk robot-like into the street and snap his own neck. Surviving his mother’s attempted strangulation, the boy disappears.
Cut to 2013, and the never-named central character is now an elfin-faced loner (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who gets his kicks by robbing banks without having to brandish a gun or even say a word. Having yet to encounter anyone who doesn’t fall instantly under his spell, he’s thrown for a loop when kind-hearted delivery man Shuichi Tanaka (Takayuki Yamada) remains mobile after everyone else in a public place has received the blue-eyed gaze and stopped dead in their tracks. Operating on the shoot-first principle, the madman sends a speeding truck into Shuichi’s path, figuring that’ll be the end of the story.
With a nod to M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable,” it turns out Shuichi has the capacity not only to survive such an incident, but also to recover fully in record time. After losing his job as a result of the accident, Shuichi ends up working for the offending driver, Mr. Kumoi (Tomorowo Taguchi), a guitar-shop proprietor whose pretty daughter, Kanae (Satomi Ishihara), takes a very respectable shine to the new employee.
Naturally the madman wants to finish the job, and it’s not long before Shuichi and everyone he holds dear is back in the blue-glow radar. The results of this development are variable; the pace dips noticeably in the middle section, with uninspired action sequences and far too much time allocated to Shuichi’s goofball buddies Akira (Taiga), a nerdy tech type, and Jun (Motoki Ochiai), a mincing old-school gay stereotype.
Matters improve markedly in the home stretch when tough veteran cop Shibamoto (Yutaka Matsushige) and brainy young detective Oshikiri (Mina Fujii) start mobilizing police personnel and hardware. Nakata gets his mojo working with an exciting sequence set inside an opera theater and some terrific “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”-like moments showing ordinary citizens suddenly surrounding Suichi after falling under the mad psychic’s spell.
Performances and technical work are solid all around. The standout contributor is composer Kenji Kawai, whose splendid classical score brings punch to the proceedings whenever it’s heard.