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Bakemono (2023)

Bakemono (2023) – Revealing the dark side of Tokyo

Back in January, Doug Roos reached out to Malevolent Dark with his recent film, Bakemono. The film tracks the events that occur to several residents that stay in a Tokyo AirBnB. Unaware, each of the tenants encounters an evil presence that uses their deepest fears to terrorize them. Accordingly, the horrors that befall each tenant each manifest in strikingly unique ways. The Japanese word “Bakemono” refers to supernatural monsters, and Writer/Director Doug Roos gives us a fantastic practical effects monster.

Bakemono (2023) - An example of Doug Roos fantastic camera work
Bakemono makes great use of light and contrast to accent both the highlights and the darkness of Japan

The Darkside of Tokyo

On the surface, Japan looks to be a idealized utopian culture. Surround by beauty in both old world architecture and the clean lines of new world cities, Japan exudes the qualities of a culture on the path of utopian perfection. Yet, underneath, an incredible darkness lies just beneath the surface. Every once in a while, this darkness find a portal into the world of the living.

The same culture that curates streets so clean that you could eat off them is also home to Aokigahara suicide forest. Demons and ghosts pervade Japanese culture. Strange fetishes like tentacle porn and a predilection towards anime that shatters boundaries that protect children from being objectified. Japanese women still struggle with oppressive gender roles being forced on them. For every zen garden in Japan there exists a bit of depravity hidden from normal view.

Doug Roos’ film uses his monster to unveil this darkness that hides just beyond the view of tourists. Doug elaborates:

The monster is really a metaphor for this dark side with it psychologically affecting the characters the same way Tokyo does by making people more cold and competitive, more stressed, etc. One conversation in particular reinforces this when Anna says the city “chews you up, pits you against each other,” etc. and other characters also wonder why they’re behaving differently but clearly the monster is affecting them in the same way Tokyo affects its residents.

Bakemono (2023) - The use of confined space and darkness creates an especially oppressive atmosphere
The use of confined space and darkness creates an especially oppressive atmosphere

Plot Synopsis

The plot is very lightweight in the sense that Roos requires very little setup to start driving the action. An otherwise unremarkable AirBnB in Tokyo is home to a demonic force that preys on the guests. This ancient evil force attacks its victims either directly or indirectly through madness. Most interestingly, the monster causes its victims to bring their most venomous secrets to the surface. Doug Roos unifies his narrative with a thread that passes through a broken resentful man that ‘feeds’ the monster.

The monster itself is not of this world. While its true origin is never fully revealed, it clearly represents some kind of demonic force born of deep esoteric knowledge in Japanese mysticism.

Bakemono (2023) - The personification of existential dread
The personification of existential dread

Brilliant Execution and Existential Dread

Right out of the gate, Roos’ technical aptitude shows through his cinematography and ability to create an oppressive mood that smothers everything in its reach. In outdoor scenes, he places his dark subjects against the backlit city scenes. Inside, he smothers them with darkness. The whole experience feels very cinematic as Roos avoids the pitfalls of high frame rates and stark digital photography. All the while atmospheric drones rise and fall with the tension. At times, its like a symphony of demonic locusts crying out. Other times, it simply hangs in the air like a poisonous cloud.

Roos’ monster is exceptionally well done, and he is not shy about showing it. In fact, the monster enjoys a ton of screen time. He deftly navigates the line between showing too much, and showing too little for extended periods of time. During action shots, one can see subtle nods to the tentacled horror of Rick Bottin’s Thing. The best part is that the entirety of the creature is built in glorious practical effects.

Doug Roos was kind enough to answer a couple of questions about his creation:

I think a lot of different elements coalesced subconsciously when I was creating it. I remember looking at H.R. Giger’s work (big fan for a long time) but also insect anatomy like spider eyes and then, of course, The Thing is in there along with Possession (I love that movie). Lovecraft has a big influence as well especially in the sense I’m also kind of hiding the design behind blood and the way its face changes throughout the film, it’s almost like you see it but you don’t really (I also filmed some extra bits for the exclusive crowdfunding-only cut that kind of hint at some cosmic horror wherever this demon came from… could be hell but could be someplace far worse).

The design of the monster does struggle with some constraints. The faceless monster, by design, does not show any emotion or other facial articulation. On one hand, this approach really lends itself to the Lovecraftian disposition of the monster. Doug explains that his creatures morphs throughout the film. This does not go unnoticed, but at the same time the nature of the change escapes perception. The approach successfully characterizes an unstoppable force of nature, but it also starts to weigh heavily as the audience can never fully comprehend what they are looking at.

Bakemono (2023) - Doug Roos monster uses both physical horror and psychological horror to terrorize its victims
Doug Roos monster uses both physical horror and psychological horror to terrorize its victims

Critical Response

To start, we are super excited that Doug reached out to us to let us review this film. Bakemono’s technical merits are fantastic. This is a perfect film for anyone that loves a slow atmospheric burn and a throwback to practical effects epics of days past. The City of Tokyo as a cultural overlay to the narrative is a brilliant stroke of creative genius. When this aspect is coupled with themes of distorted pride, broken marriage and misplaced honor, it creates a dark commentary on Japan’s struggle with its own identity.

Doug creates an oppressive environment at every possible turn. It starts by setting the action up in an impossibly small apartment with cold concrete walls. Once the action starts, there is literally nowhere to run as the monster attacks at an agonizing pace.

Bakemono does run a bit long at 1:41 and it might have benefited from a tighter runtime.

 

Help Bakemono get to the next level

Bakemono continue to collect awards on the film festival circuit. You can support the project through his Indigogo campaign here. Doug is offering a directors cut of the film with more practical effects goodies and some behind the scenes content. All of this goes to help Bakemono push through to wider distribution.

Bakemono (2023) - Movie Poster

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