Hell Girl (Japan 2019)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: Jigoku Shojo (Japanese title)
Review Date: 6/3/20
Cast: Tina Tamashiro, Nana Mori, Sawa Nimura, Manami Hashimoto

There's an urban legend that if you visit a certain web site at exactly midnight, you can air your grievances to Hell Girl (Tina Tamashiro) and she will take revenge for you. But there's a catch: you'll be condemned to eternal suffering in Hell once you die. It hardly seems fair to share the same fate as your tormentor, but that's how the revenge game works and there are plenty of people who are willing to give up their souls for a tiny slice of mortal satisfaction. The main story revolves around a high school girl named Miho (Nana Mori), who seems to have some connection with Ai Enma (aka Hell Girl) prior to knowing anything about her. When Miho gets groped at a rock concert, a rough and rebellious rocker girl named Haruka (Sawa Nimura) rescues her by dragging the creep outside and beating him up. The two become unlikely friends and a chance meeting with a rock star named Maki lands Haruka an audition to be a singer in his band. Her instant rise to fame creates a rift between the two friends, as her lifestyle becomes consumed with sex, drugs, and violence. In an attempt to rescue Haruka from her road to self-destruction, Miho joins forces with a photo journalist named Kudo whose mother previously held a covenant with Hell Girl. Haruko betrays Kudo to the murderous Maki, unaware of what Maki has in store for her. Miho's last chance to save Haruka is to call on Hell Girl, which leads to the expected downbeat ending.

While it's a good looking and well-made picture, it's not a very compelling adaptation of the original series. Not nearly enough time is spent with Hell Girl, and her servants are woefully underrepresented. Ai is given no back story and has no characterization or personality whatsoever. Tina Tamashiro is also sorely miscast in the role, and she lacks the childlike aspects of the original character. Her facial features also don't serve the character well. Ai's servants suffer as well, and they're literally given nothing to work with, which makes you wonder why they're even there in the first place. The film really belongs to the girls in the real world and the drama that they have to contend with. Fortunately, the acting is good and the girls are all adorable.

The visual effects are adequate, but the film looks overly processed with hot spots of saturated color. Sadly, the retribution sequences are disappointingly brief, and offer no poetic justice for the victims. They simply get dragged to Hell and that's the end of it. As a result, the movie fails to capture the flavor and spirit of the source material, and Hell Girl is little more than a soulless tool. The film offers no insight into who she is, what she is, or why she is, and doesn't even hint at her suffering. She simply just pops up occasionally, delivers her catch phrase, and disappears. It's also long, slow, and overly talky, which can be a chore to watch without the benefit of subtitles. While I'm glad to see that the film got made, it's a misguided and lackluster effort that feels like a huge missed opportunity.