Infection (2004)
By: Markus Zussner on May 7, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 5.1, Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 95 minutes
The Movie
Director: Masayuki Ochiai
Starring: Koichi Sato, Masanobu Takashima, Mari Hoshino, Michiko Hada, Kaho Minami
Screenplay: Masayuki Ochiai
Tagline: Death is just a breath away
Country: Japan
Year: Kansen
A run down mismanaged hospital overflows with too many patients. Supplies are running short. The staff are severely overworked and are suffering from fatigue, and resignations have left them with less than a skeleton crew. What's more, the staff's Board Representative is missing, and some of the patients - including a young boy with a creepy mask and an insane old lady - are wandering around unattended.

In the ER a desperate call from an ambulance comes through. They have a patient that seems to have a disease that is spreading across his whole body at a phenomenal rate and are looking for any hospital that will accept him. The ER staff don't respond to the desperate call from the ambulance driver as they have no room or the staff available to deal with the emergency. What's more, a burn patient suffers from complications and is rushed into the ER for emergency treatment. A mistake is made, and the patient dies. In fear of an official report ruining the careers of the staff present, the doctors and nurses involved decide to cover-up the mistake. The burn victim has no immediate family or friends so no visitors ever come to see him. The staff ascertain that the only people that will claim the body will be the Health Department who may do an official autopsy. The substance accidentally injected (Calcium Chlorate) dissipates from the body after 48 hours, so they decide to heat up the body to accelerate the rate of decay, in an attempt to cover-up their fatal mistake. The body is put in an isolated room and heaters are placed around it and a staff member is put on watch.

At about the same time as the royal screw-up with the burn victim, the ambulance driver with the infected patient turns up in the ambulance bay pleading for the ER staff to take his patient. He is naturally concerned for his victim because the infection has now reached and covered the patient's whole face and his body temperature has reached dangerous levels. The doctor in charge reluctantly refuses to admit the patient and then goes back to the problem at hand with the deceased burn victim. The Ambulance driver in frustration and with little or no choices left decides to leave the mysterious patient behind in the hospital foyer. After dealing with the death of the burn patient the doctors realise that the patient with the infection has been left with them to deal with. On examining the patient they discover that his internal organs are beginning to liquefy and green slime starts to ooze out from every orifice.

The hospital now has a new patient, and before the night is out, he could be the death of them all...

Now you think I've given away the whole storyline for Infection, but this is merely the first 10 minutes of the movie which sets the foundation of the story in concrete, builds up the characters, and firmly establishes the ground roots for where the storyline may or may not go. Each of the characters get establishing scenes in the beginning to give the viewer insight into each of their personalities. The characters develop quite nicely through the movie from their initial establishing scenes and they start to fit to the unveiling story like a jigsaw to a puzzle. Most of the main cast share equal screen time.

Writer/Director Masayuki Ochiai, purposely does not attempt to capture an authentic or realistic feel of how an ER is run in a hospital; I should know; I've worked in a major city hospital for over 10 years. My office was in the basement right by the morgue, I shit you not. Many TV hospital dramas like ER try to depict an authentic and realistic feel but any authenticism in Infection is more or less intentionally thrown out the electronic sliding doors and down the drainpipe. The hospital is merely the isolated setting for the story to unfold which is a good move on the creator's part. The setting for the film could have been anywhere.

This hospital and the action unfolding within has a lot more in common with Kingdom Hospital and characters from a David Lynch movie rather than anything else, leaving the director to concentrate on creating the sense of dread, fear and isolation required. Many of the characters are absolutely off the wall; a nurse that has no confidence in using needles practises inserting needles on unconscious patients. When she is busted by one of the other nurses she then begins to practice on herself. Priceless. There's the Charge Nurse who is colder than the South Pole and makes The Terminator look like personality of the year; and then there are our two primary doctors, Dr Akai and Dr Atibu, who seem to play it straight until the hospital goes into total chaos and then start delivering their best 'I'm having a really bad day' performances to the point of insane black humour. On the patient side we have the old lady that seems to see dearly departed family members and friends in mirrors or window reflections and gets her jollies from observing other peoples discomfort or pain. She really freaked me out, man! This character is actually based on a real patient from a documentary that director Masayuki Ochiai had previously worked on. Then there's the young boy, a patient in the hospital that seems to spend most of his time running around unsupervised with a spooky looking mask on. The young boy has no lines in the movie and virtually no interaction with any of the other characters. He is like the invisible observer, the silent witness or the fly on the wall so to speak. I can't help but feel that the boy symbolises the viewer, in that we can react but we can't interact so therefore we have no influence on the outcome of the story or the fate of the characters. In some ways we are as helpless as any patient in any hospital. We must have faith in the Doctor to do the right thing.

Gore is kept to a minimum and green slime is pumped up to its maximum. Director Masayuki Ochiai who has already been down the dark path with his previous effort Parasite Eye, uses incredible restraint in what he wants the viewer to see or not to see. Just enough ooze and blood to unsettle us and plenty of horrible things lurking within the dark shadows just out of sight. It's very easy to lay the SPFX on thick to cover up obvious flaws of a movie. Ochiai balances his visual FX, character development and storyline on a delicate highwire to provide a movie that fits securely in the 'Goldilocks zone'. In that I mean, not too hot, not too cold, just right.

The film's ending is something else. Infection has a very over ambitious ending that has more twists and turns than my intestinal tract. Expect at least 3 twists to the ending all within a few minutes timeframe. I had to struggle with the ending which left more than one conclusion to choose from. I've said this before about overambitious or vague endings; either it'll keep you thinking for a few days leading you to your own conclusions; or it'll just piss you off and you'll just give up. I say just give up and go with it.
A crystal clear image with no grain. The cinematography is wonderfully wicked achieving a very dirty and gritty visual style. A few shots do have a subtle grain effect to enhance the imagery of the story when required. Hospital corners are so dark they are literally pitch black and you never know what's going to crawl out of that green-edged darkness and please do be careful because there are things lurking in those dark corners. There is great use of flat lighting in certain scenes which will momentarily bring you out of the tense nightmare ride before throwing you back into the corridors of darkness again. The flat lighting also gives the director of photography the ability to manipulate the creation of shadows from subtle shady tones to pitch black green-edged voids of darkness.
Great sound! There's lot of wonderfully strange industrial noises and sound effects going on here. Buzzing and flickering fluorescent lights, the hum of generators, and the drone of specialised electronic hospital equipment thumping away from beginning to end. Certain dialogue scenes that have no audio effects really help to accentuate the audio effects placed in the creepy scenes. If you have an audio effect constantly running through a movie from beginning to end, your ears get accustomed to the sound and you forget that it is actually there. Sometimes on some discs there really isn't that much difference in sound quality between 5.1 digital audio format and 5.1 DTS audio format but in the case of Infection the 5.1 DTS format is far superior to the 5.1 Dolby Digital audio format.
Extra Features
The Making of Infection - a 30 minute documentary on the nuts and bolts of Infection. Interviews with Cast, Writer/Director Masayuki Ochiai and Producer Taka Ichise the man responsible for producing The Ring, Ju-On: The Grudge and Dark Water amongst others. The feature covers conception, preproduction, casting, SPFX and the end result. There is also a lesson in hanging upside down from the ceiling which seems to be a prerequisite in Japanese Horror films.

Digital Effects Exposed - A 5 minute look into some of the digital effects.

J-Horror Theatre Press conference - Cast and Crew promote their movie.

Short Interviews from 3-5 minutes with: Masayuki Ochiai – Director, Koichi Sato – Dr Atibu, Masanobu Takashima – Dr Uozumi Kaho Minami – Charge Nurse, Mari Hoshino – Nurse, Yoko Maki – Nurse Yuko Tae Kimura – Nurse Nanae, Michiko Hada – Dr Nakazomo, Reiko Kusamura – Patient, Shiro Sano – Dr Akai.

A stills gallery, and Madman Trailers for Inner Senses, Ju-On: The Grudge 2, and Shadowless Sword conclude the selection.
The Verdict
Infection does not have the frightening ferocity of The Ring or Ju-On: The Grudge, which were designed to scare the pants off of viewers; instead Writer/Director Masayuki Ochiai and Producer Taka Ichise have created a horror film that is genuinely creepy with an atmosphere of unease and pure dread. The creators of Infection seem to be influenced intentionally or unintentionally by such movies as Kingdom Hospital, The Thing, Ebola Syndrome and The Eye. We have a hospital that's strangely abnormal with a very oddball assortment of staff; we cannot trust anyone, loyal colleagues or even the patients may no longer have any control over their actions or faculties; we have a highly unknown infectious disease that liquefies organs and causes people to melt into green ooze and what's more we might or might not have a supernatural force admitted as an in-patient at the same time that the infected patient is wheeled in. The end result is a hilariously insane trip on a highly contagious roller coaster ride through the tunnel of death and back out into the light again. If you like your hospitals with supernatural forces, malpractice, melting bodies, green snot and insane staff, then admit yourself into hospital and get infected.
Movie Score
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