The Sylvian Experiments (2010)

DECEMBER 26, 2011


With my Blockbuster being so choosy lately with what DTV/indie/foreign horror movies they stock on the shelves, I have to wonder why they opted to make The Sylvian Experiments (Japanese: Kyofu) one of them. Apart from the “From The Creators Of Ringu” blurb on the cover, there’s not much about it that can entice a prospective renter (Paranormal Activity-esque cover notwithstanding), especially since it’s not even available dubbed – Sucker Punch is sitting right there next to it for the “I’ll rent whatever” crowd!

Also, it’s an incoherent mess, without enough of the gonzo “fun” style of an equally baffling Italian movie to make up for all the head-scratching. Lucio Fulci could helm a quickie knockoff of My Soul To Take and dub it in Esperanto, and it still wouldn’t be as baffling a movie as this, which combines pretty much every genre ever – Mad science! Ghosts! Possession! Psychological head trip! – and fails to engage on any level. I was getting confused by the ten minute mark; after 70 minutes or so I gave up even trying to decipher what exactly was going on or why I should care.

On paper it’s easy enough to explain – a doctor obsessed with the brain (particularly the sylvian fissure) is experimenting on her daughters, and it doesn’t work out too well for anyone. However, the movie’s fragmented structure and seeming lack of any “rules” makes it hard to even take that much out of it, let alone any of the subplots or intricacies of the main story. Why she is doing this, why she had to use her daughter (or daughters, one might have been part of the experiment – again, it’s unclear), who is working for her, why our heroine sleeps with her sister’s boyfriend while in between searches for her, etc – I couldn’t even begin to theorize, let alone offer a definite answer.

As I’ve said before, when I spend too much time trying to understand what is going on, it becomes impossible to get scared or even tensed up at the horror scenes, because I have no context for what is at stake. A jump scare might still work (I assume that any standalone stalk-kill sequence from a F13 movie would work just as well if you hadn’t seen everything that led up to it), but this sort of horror requires a little more grounding in order to be successful. I couldn’t even tell by the end if the mother or the experimented on daughter was supposed to be our uber villain. The entire movie just felt trying to follow the last level of a Final Fantasy game after a year’s break from playing (if you’ve never played one, they all go off the rails near the end); more than once I wondered if I was supposed to have done some research first.

Thus, when one of our protagonists suddenly sees two ghosts coming toward him at a hospital, it’s not particularly scary to me. It’s not the actor’s fault, or even the FX (pretty good for what is obviously a low budget production), but I just had no idea what the hell was happening. I should be shrieking or at least getting goose bumps, not wondering if the DVD had skipped the 20 minutes leading up to it. And at the end of it all I’m not even sure if it actually happened or not, which just adds to the frustration.

At least there’s some occasional batshit dialogue to enjoy. Whether it was just a bad translation or not (which, to be fair, could have caused some of the confusion in general – another reason to always provide a dub, for a “second opinion” since the dubbed track and subs rarely match), I don’t need to know what is going on to enjoy a howler like “She will give birth to the afterlife. We will all be eaten.” And if “Her own child will take her virginity" was the actual line, then this could be the greatest movie of all time if I am ever able to decipher it. Or at least, it would make for a great double feature with Rise Of The Dead.

Even if you’re a J-horror junkie, I can’t see this one being one of your favorites. I may not be a big fan of the Grudge/Ju-On films, but I can at least more or less follow their basic stories, and understand why they work for so many. This… I just don’t know what the hell anyone can get out of it other than a brief suspicion that they were having a stroke.

What say you?


  1. very good movie - yes seriously - just the right amount of mystery and wtf-ness to warrant a second viewing - it comes across as a puzzle but it seems a solvable one at least - wtf type movies are usually incomprehensible drivel posing as enigmas

    the concept is creepy as f--k - lets experiment on our daughters - lets mindf--k people into believing they committed suicide and are in some sort of limbo afterwards

    theres a LOT more going on in this film than 99% of Asian movies and is pretty damn uniqiue - almost an Asian version of Martyrs


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