Nightmare Detective

The horror-policier, like the horror-comedy, is among the more ill-advised of genre mash-ups–the aims of the one mode seem almost entirely at odds with the other. On the one hand, we have the impulse toward chaos, the uncanny and the unresolvable; on the other, the need for rationality and total understanding; the case that must be closed. Leave it to WTF-meister Shinya Tsukamoto to so thoroughly confuse the two that his combination almost works. His Nightmare Detective begins in exhilarating, if elliptical, fashion. In a sequence Lynch-like in its unsettling images (including a dream room full of arse-mouthed spastics) and its attribution of malicious intent to harmless objects (a wig, an empty stairwell), we first encounter our titular gumshoe, Kagenuma, as well as the case he will reluctantly take on. It seems someone, or something, has the power to travel through people’s cell phones in order to occupy their dreams and make them commit gruesome suicide. Rookie investigator Keiko deduces as much, leading her to seek help from the depressive Kagenuma–but in order to draw out the murderer, they must first allow him into their dreams. The film is perhaps suitably dull and washed-out while this by-the-numbers police procedural plays out, only to be interrupted and enlivened by savage, disorienting nightmare-suicide sequences, complete with mysterious beings lurking just around corners, furious handheld camerawork and the most menacing bike rack anyone’s ever seen. Despite a boring romantic through-line and some tired psychologising–according to which, gasp! the murderer’s actions trace back to some bullshit childhood trauma!–Tsukamoto’s climax ties in an astounding knot the disparate threads he’s been weaving throughout. In this final nightmare, psychodrama meets body horror, the mental and corporeal combine, dreams collide with waking life, the case gets solved and everybody gets the crap scared out of them. I’d call that about as successful a mixing and matching of genre tropes as we’ve seen since Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s even more bewildering Cure. (Sean Rogers)

Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto

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