Using the world's second largest walk-through haunted attraction — "The Haunted Hospital" inside the Fuji-Q Highland theme park — as its backdrop, director Takashi Shimizu, of the 'Ju-on' and 'Grudge' franchises, aims for the spooky thrill-ride experience in 'The Shock Labyrinth.' From a script by Daisuke Hosaka, who later co-penned the similarly-themed haunted-horror 'Tormented,' the story follows a non-linear structure as a small group of friends try to escape an abandon building as well as the terrible secrets of their past. The filmmakers incorporate the now old-fashioned anaglyph 3D format to add another layer of frights, but what we end up with is a lame kiddie ride that barely musters the scare factor of a 'Goosebumps' TV episode — cheap photography, acting and all.
On the night Ken (Yûya Yagira) returns to his childhood home, which he left upon his mother's death, Yuki (Misako Renbutsu) suddenly reappears after several years of her disappearance. While sitting at the table, head drooped forward, it becomes quickly apparent that Shimizu is set to recycle to same long, black hair look he's used in the past for suggesting something uncanny about a character. At this point of seeing so many J-horror movies, especially Shimizu's own, the guise is really a tedious — and on some levels, rather sad — cliché, lazily applied in lieu of genuine characterization. We know, even before Yuki goes into some crazed hysterics about the lights going out, that she's not right in the head or as is the usual case, not supposed to be amongst the living.
You could argue that last bit of information deserves some kind of spoiler alert, but honestly, what's the point when it has essentially become the standard pretense of the genre. Besides, ten minutes into the story and the other two friends, Rin (Ai Maeda) and Motoko (Ryo Katsuji), pretty much giveaway any chances of a possible shocking twist, yelling about hospitals and Yuki being released. Flashback sequences explaining a traumatic secret that binds the group also show a younger version of the girl acting the doomed creepy oddball. Again, the long, black hair contrasting against a simple, radiant-white dress that looks too much like a nightgown reveals more than it should. The scenes also tend to feel somewhat like a nuisance by repeatedly slowing down the pace and the scares.
Admittedly, the movie does have its moments of hair-raising eeriness and a decently engaging mystery that unfortunately draw in poor little Myiu (Erina Mizuno), Yuki's much younger sister. Of course, audiences have to wait until the gang arrives at the haunted-house attraction, which they were led to believe was a hospital. How exactly they made the confusion is unclear, but they're there now and forced to revisit the day Yuki was met by an ill-fated accident and vanished. Walking through the maze and seeing the bizarre, spooky mannequins is part of the fun in 'Shock Labyrinth,' making up a little bit of the movie's minor shortcomings. Regrettably, the kids don't do much exploring, generally confining their search to the same rooms and a spiral staircase at the center of it all.
Some of the supposed scary sequences are actually laughably silly, most notably a bunny backpack floating in mid-air towards the camera. It's meant to be enjoyed for the 3D gimmick effect, naturally, but it's also meant to be unnerving, which it certainly isn't. Of more interest is the whole present-day affecting the actions of the past concept within the plot, opening some curious possibilities. However, it also becomes one big tangled mess that proves fruitless and ultimately doesn't make much sense. By the time we reach the actual twist in the story, we're already exhausted from following the slightly labyrinthine setup. And frankly, we pretty much don't care.
Shimizu's haunted-attraction themed flick is a one-note carny ride with broken-down mechanical dolls and a stale stink in the air. It might bring a momentary smile to your face, but the next day, it's forgotten and you feel cheated of your money.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Well Go USA Entertainment brings 'The Shock Labyrinth 3D' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a cardboard lenticular slipcover. Sitting comfortably on opposing panels, the first disc is a Region Free, BD50 and the other a DVD-9, also Region Free but doesn't offer the anaglyph 3D version seen in a previous home video release. Forced trailers kick things off, and viewers are given the option between 2D and 3D before moving to an animated main menu with music. To switch to the other format, you must return to the top menu.
Filmed entirely with the use of HD cameras, 'Shock Labyrinth' is neither shockingly good nor shockingly bad on Blu-ray, but it's definitely a letdown in terms of the 3D picture. Granted, there are moments in the 1080p/MPEG-4 MVC encode (1.85:1) which are quite fun, but in general, the quality of the video doesn't make much of a strong impression or ever feel very immersive.
Working with a very specific visual design in mind, director Takashi Shimizu subdued much of the color palette in favor of greens, blues and lots of ugly teal. Several of the other primaries still come through, only not as prominently. The video also looks very cheap and digital, as if the filmmakers used the cheapest HD cam they could find. This makes for a horrid presentation with bland contrast levels although visibility is excellent in the many poorly-lit interiors, which makes up a big part of the movie. Blacks are pretty lush and penetrating with outstanding shadows, yet it remains very digital.
A few of the positives aside, the picture is still pretty ugly. A significant chunk of the movie is shot with soft-focus diffusers, meant to represent flashback sequences, which is nothing to really gripe about except it causes a great deal of blurriness and should probably never be used with the 3D design in mind. This ruins much of the clarity, especially with the dark glasses, not that it would matter since definition is fairly weak. Although the griminess of the hospital maze is plain and discernible, fine lines and details overall are disappointing with rarely moment to remind viewers they're actually watching high-definition video on the latest format.
Making matters worse, the presentation can feel flat during several sequences, taking away from the 3D picture's stronger aspects. Depth is fairly consistent with an appreciable sense of distance, but never does it feel expansive or like it penetrates deep into the screen. Separation is good with very little to no crosstalk, though a few scenes show a bit of teal-red ghosting and chromatic aberrations. This is either due to the way it was filmed or evidence that the print used for this post-conversion was originally meant for anaglyph 3D. Whatever the case may be, the transfer as a whole feels like one gigantic tactic to mask the lack of scares or genuine storytelling, with only a couple sequences worth noting for using the standard 3D gimmick, such as hands reaching for the screen or a bunny backpack floating in the center of the screen. Aside from that, the transfer is ugly and mediocre.
As a quick note worth mentioning, given the choice between two DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks — one an English dub, the other in the original Japanese — the English track might be preferred. For some strange reason, subtitles regularly flicker or frequently adjust to align with the active shutter glasses. Not sure if this is equipment related or a problem with the video encoding, which is very likely, but whatever the case, it's very distracting and made listening as well as watching the movie a bit of a chore.
With that out of the way, the rest of the lossless mix comes with several positives and occasionally provides a much better immersive quality than the video. The musical score opens up the soundstage and lightly bleeds into the back, creating a nice sense of presence and fidelity. The rears are intermittently employed to extend the soundfield, like a child's footsteps running overhead or the sound of rain falling all around, but such discrete effects are much too sporadic and tend to bring attention to themselves. Still, panning and movement in these segments are smooth and flawless.
In the fronts, dialogue is well-prioritized and perceptible at all times. Imaging has its moments with a clean and detailed mid-range, creating a broad soundstage that's engaging. Surprisingly, the high-rez track exhibits some rather powerful and potent bass extension that reaches to the lower-depths convincingly, making an otherwise humdrum soundtrack into a decently enjoyable one.
The same supplements from the DVD are carried over for the Blu-ray.
Takashi Shimizu's 'The Shock Labyrinth 3D' is a quickly forgotten ghost tale that offers little in terms of scare factor or an interesting storyline. Much of the problem relates to being a generic spook-fest with little characterization or plot twists that only seem to complicate the small bits of enjoyment scattered about. The Blu-ray arrives with a 3D video that feels equally generic with only mild levels of amusement, but the audio does a slightly better job at immersing the audience. Supplements are directly copied over, making this a viable option only if you're really desperate for more 3D material.