After years of building up a reputation as one of the industry’s top special effects gurus, Hiroshi Katagiri made his feature length directorial debut with the premiere of c. I’m happy to report that it succeeds not only as a horror film, but as a harrowing drama that casts a damning light on the consequences of colonization.
In the film, a Real Estate developer named Paulina (Eva Swan) take a trip to the island of Saipan, with the intention of building a hotel resort there. Once there, she’s accompanied by her friend Tyler (Justin Gordon), her dim-witted brother Dave (Matthew Hegstrom), the local coordinator Alan (Simon Phillips), and his assistant Pepe (Sean Sprawling). While surveying the land they plan to build on, they find an abandoned bunker on the beach, and decide to explore it, only to get locked inside. While they desperately look for a way out, they discover a morbid secret that the locals have been trying to warn them about.
Contrary to what you would expect from someone renowned for creature feature effects, the film is surprisingly restrained. Most of the suspense comes from the claustrophobic nature of the setting, as well as the protagonists’ increasing desperation in their attempts to escape from it. The monochromatic lighting and cookie-cutter sets serve to reinforce the overall mood of hopelessness and isolation.
Aside from the terrifying final act (capped off with a twist so brilliant I dare not spoil it), most of the film’s horror is diluted with a hefty dose of drama. As their situation worsens, the protagonists are continually forced to confront the consequences of their sins, and the sins of their ancestors.
That isn’t to say that the film isn’t scary; far from it. The climax of the film is excruciatingly thrilling, and even during the relatively tepid second act, there’s an unrelenting feeling of tension. There are moments when the protagonists appear to be in a relatively safe spot, but there’s always a lingering feeling that they’re not.
On his Kickstarter page, Katagiri sums up his philosophy on horror thusly: “A truly great horror film should first and foremost strive to be a great film.” With his feature length debut, Katagiri proves that he takes this philosophy to heart, delivering a well-paced, compelling, thought-provoking story on top of delivering the scares.