Joshua Dysart’s review published on Letterboxd:
Rhythmic and relentless. Escalating, cumulative, expressionistic dread. Images on top of one another, simultaneously cast in a gauzy haze, creating super-imposed synergistic meanings. Visual patterns call backwards and forwards across an oblique narrative. Pitch bleak visual excess. All is impressionism. Perceptionism. Both the characters and the viewers are lost in visions. There is no detachment.
Masuo Inoue’s utterly haunted and persistent face tries to keep us grounded. His performance is amazing, hard to take your eyes off of. We see him mind wander, his consciousness compromised, unfastened, drifting. A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. And so his head is our head. Your head is my head.
All of it a neoteric attempt to find a filmic language for mental illness. Not just madness as subject matter, but madness as formal approach, experiential madness. Madness contained inside the screen, in the frame completely, on the other side of the storm rattled window, past the iron bars. Madness in slashes of shadow and daggers of light. The flow and construction of the flick is soul-soaked and inky. Dense with atmosphere.
It absolutely feels like the starting gun for a certain kind of Japanese horror sensibility, an inner spiritual darkness that will grow to become films like Onibaba and Demons and Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees decades and wars (and bombs) later. A sensibility that will ultimately grow mainstream enough to impact all of global horror cinema.
The full extent of the story is difficult to parse from a single viewing. There are no intertitles, having been influenced by F. W. Murnau’s ‘The Last Laugh’. The characters speak but we are left to infer. In 1926 this would have had a live narrator in the theater, which I assume is the most intended and accessible way to engage with it.
But really it’s for the best that the story is submerged and that mostly this is just a bleak-ass emotion generation machine. The story is the only trite and dated thing about this and I’m not sure the movie would have the same impact if we didn’t have to work so hard to track it (or not work at all and just let it wash over us, like I did, high as the moon on a late summer afternoon).
One of the best movies Guy Maddin ever saw.
PS: I thought the Alloy Orchestra Composed soundtrack was awesome.