Despite dealing with some important topics and being an achievement in atmosphere, the premise that supports the Fatal Frame live-action movie isn’t that attractive.
The premise behind the Fatal Frame franchise has always seemed particularly refreshing to me. In this Japanese horror series, the protagonists use a device known as the Camera Obscura to protect themselves from the spirits that roam the environments around them. Although some elements from the games remain in the film, the Fatal Frame movie (known as Project Zero: The Movie in Japan) is a completely different affair that won’t appeal that much to those who played the PlayStation 2 game back in the day.
In a Catholic all-girls boarding school, the most popular student, Aya, starts behaving strangely and some of her best friends believe that she is the victim of a curse. But as time goes by, stranger things start happening: other girls disappear, others appear dead and Aya shows up in other people’s dreams, demanding them to free her from the curse. The few girls who survive the curse spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out how to stop Aya.
One of the best parts about this horror movie is the fact that it was made in Japan. Therefore, the pace is deliberately slow, horror scenes are well thought-out and scary moments come from characters realizations and dialogue instead of cheap jump scares. It’s not for everyone, but some people will appreciate the change of pace, especially if you compare this movie to horror films made in America and Europe.
That said, I don’t feel like the premise behind the movie is remotely as compelling as that of the game. Of course, the Camera Obscura is central to the game because it makes sense gameplay-wise, so the writers decided to come up with something different for the movie, but I would have liked something more attractive than a cursed girl who kills her classmates one by one. This feels like lazy storytelling and the entire plot is extremely uninspired at times, even if the atmosphere around that story is convincingly creepy.
Something refreshing (especially for a Japanese movie) is that Fatal Frame discusses themes of female sexuality and lesbian relationships and in a way that doesn’t feel offensive or exploitative. The story revolves about being a lesbian in Japan in both modern times and that’s riveting, since not many Japanese horror movies explore these topics.
In the end, Fatal Frame creates and tense and compelling atmosphere without blood, violence or convoluted traps. In other words, the film is subtle yet effective. The problem is that the premise that supports the movie isn’t that attractive and the lack of the ghost killing camera can disappoint fans of the video game franchise.