New Religion Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by SHM Films
Written and directed by Keishi Kondo
2022, 100 minutes, Not Yet Rated
FrightFest UK Premiere on 29th August 2022
Kaho Seto as Miyabi
Daiki Nunami as Aizawa
Satoshi Oka as Oka
Saionji Ryuseigun as The boyfriend
After the tragic loss of her daughter to a balcony accident, Miyabi (Kaho Seto) falls into a job working as a call girl. Through this work, she meets a mysterious client (Satoshi Oka) who takes pictures of her spine, various limbs and extremities. While posing for foot pics is surely nothing out of the ordinary for your average call girl, the events that follow certainly are. Some time after the shoot, Miyabi is struck by the feeling of her daughter’s presence – a small, ghostly hand caressing her leg.
Miyabi comes to realise that these photographs are bringing her closer to her dead daughter. Time and again she returns to her photographer, until all that remains to be captured is her eyes. But some things are meant to stay gone, and some boundaries are not meant to be crossed. What effect is the grieving mother’s reunion having on Miyabi – and the world around her?
The feature debut of writer and director Keishi Kondo, New Religion is a slow-burn sci-fi/horror thriller, its red neon-flushed world teeming with eroticism and unseen terrors. On paper, reminiscent of the works of Cronenberg (Videodrome) and Roeg (Don't Look Now), but resolutely neither of those things. In following Miyabi on her journey, Kondo refuses to give up easy answers, or into cheap scares. Its horrors are of the purely existential kind, leaving society crumbling in its wake. As a haunted Miyabi travels to her next job, blood is shed on the streets; victim of a killer stalking the city. 20 people die in a museum explosion and fire. On the people trudge, carrying on with their lives as normal.
New Religion is awash with interesting cinematography by Sho Mishina, and a pervading sense of dread, cultivated in no small part by the film’s music team (Akihiko Matsumoto, Miimm, Abul Mogard and Zeze Wakamatsu). From the death of Miyabi’s daughter to the depiction of her crumbling under grief and trauma, the film unfolds quietly and coldly, with the brooding, throbbing score doing the bulk of the talking. Its characters are muted, distant, and quietly traumatized. Miyabi and others take their beatings (literal and figurative) with little reaction, refusing to rage against the dying of the light. Miyabi and her boyfriend (Saionji Ryuseigun) take a beating from her ex-husband, and still no-one rasies their voice.
This is an admirably subtle take on the ghost story, without relying on loud bangs or jump scares; and depicting grief-driven obsession without falling into Jack Torrance-esque murder antics. The few 'traditional' shocks the film does have in store (a brief bit of gore; a Miike-esque cutaway to Oka, vibrating on the floor) are all the more special for their scarcity.
Too cold for some - particularly those who may have expected something a little more Tokyo Decadence - but a powerful debut from its writer, director, producer and editor. Many may struggle to see past the film’s icy, unknowable exterior, but sure to garner its own devout following, in time.
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