Sweet Home (Japan 1988)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 11/4/17

A beautifully shot and excellently crafted haunted house movie, that suffers from pacing issues and an oddly misplaced and upbeat tone. For reasons that are completely unclear, the movie opens in a desert during a fierce sandstorm, where a TV network executive named Kazuo is trying to get permission to film a documentary in Ichiro Mamiya's house. Mamiya was a famous painter and there are rumors of an undiscovered fresco in the house, but the house has been off limits for thirty years because people think it's cursed. Obviously, the TV crew has no concern for curses, and the shrewd property manager uses the situation as an opportunity to prove if the house is indeed haunted. As soon as the group enters the house, strange things start happening and the spirit of Lady Mamiya manifests itself, looking for her lost baby. It takes a liking to Kazuo's teenage daughter Emi, and the second half of the film revolves around Kazuo and a woman named Akiko trying to rescue her from the house's evil influence.

The cinematography is gorgeous and the Mamiya mansion has an appropriately spooky atmosphere. The visual effects (courtesy of Dick Smith) are very impressive, although there are a handful towards the end that look excessively tacky. The strangest thing about the film is the tone. The music is overly lighthearted and cheerful, and the characters seem like they were lifted from a TV sit-com. This doesn't match the gruesome and horrific things that are happening at the house at all. The film's climax, while visually impressive, drags on WAY too long, and feels like it could be tightened up significantly. The happy ending comes as a surprise as well as a disappointment, and just reinforces the family-friendly tone of the movie. It's like the film is afraid of its own scariness, and wants to reassure the audience that it's really all in the name of fun. "Sweet Home" is an interesting mix of Eastern and Western horror styles, which reportedly inspired Capcom's "Resident Evil" video game.