27th Nov2017

MonsterFest 2017: ‘The Viper’s Hex’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Saya Minami, Kenji Shimada, Kaori Kawabuchi, Kei Miura, Nozomi de Lencquesaing, Yoji Yamada, Sawa Masaki, Yasunari Kondo, Ten Miyazawa, Yûki Kuroda, Dylan Davies Tanaka, Dylan Heath, Ayumu Kawashima, Yumiko Dunk | Written by Bill Clare, Addison Heath, Dylan Heath, Jasmine Jakupi | Directed by Addison Heath, Jasmine Jakupi

vipers-hex-poster

I’ll be honest, I’m a HUGE fan of writer/director Addison Heath’s work – from his script for Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla; to his fantastic directorial debut Under a Kaleidoscope (which I reviewed back in 2014 when it screened at that years MonsterFest); to his most recent film, the superb genre-bending Monda Yakuza; I have enjoyed each and ever one of his movies to no end. So how excited am I for with his latest opus, The Viper’s Hex, another film inspired by Far East cinema? Let’s just say a LOT!

Whilst his previous film, Mondo Yakuza, was clearly inspired by the 60s Yakuza films from Japan , as well as classic Ozplopitation cinema, The Viper’s Hex takes it’s inspiration from the world of J-horror and tells the story of Kiyo, a cursed hostess, who falls pregnant to Anchin. After learning the news, he flees Tokyo leaving her heartbroken. Kiyo, now alone turns to someone who has been with her since birth – a vengeful spirit known only as “The Viper”

Fresh off the back of the success of his previous film, Heath this time shares directorial duties with Jasmine Jakupi, his cinematographer on the aforementioned Mondo Yakuza. And together the pair manage to create some truly unique visuals that range from the surprisingly mundane, such as the bustling streets of Japan, to the incredibly eerie and horrific; and they do it in the space of one film, often between scenes, flitting between juxtaposed genres and filmic styles in a way that shouldn’t work. Yet, thanks to Heath and co’s unique sense of world-building, it does.

One area in which Heath has really improved across his oeuvre is in sound design. There’s a real focus here on not only the visuals, which are often filled with neons and blacks a la your typical Nicholas Winding-Refn film, but also the sound. Be it the deafening silence or the synthwave soundtrack, there’s a real extensive use of sound to set the mood and tone; and, at times, to add depth to otherwise innocuous scenes. In particular, especially in terms of the score, The Viper’s Hex manages to evoke similar emotions from the audience as say, The Exorcist‘s use of Tubular Bells opening bars does or John Carpenter’s synth theme to Halloween.

Notably, The Viper’s Hex also continues Heath’s journey into some truly bleak cinema. Yes, Mondo Yakuza is bleak, yet there are some lighter moments within the darkness. However this film is relentlessly bleak… From the outset, a love scene between Kiyo and Anchin, there’s no let up to the overall melancholy of Kiyo or her situation. And things only get worse, and darker, for Kiyo – and the audience – as the film progresses. Even when you think there’s going to be a lighter tone, the film instead swerves into darkness and sometimes even brutality. Yet for all his progression into the darker side of cinema, there’s one thing that times all of Heath’s film together. His characterisation.

And yes, whilst this isn’t in the vain of films like Perfect Nonsense, Under a Kaleidoscope, or Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla, The Viper’s Hex still shares similar traits with Heath’s other work. For despite the different stories, different genres, different genders, Heath’s films all feature a similar “underbelly” of society just trying to get by and there’s a real focus on the maligned members of society that are often ignored by the mainstream. Speaking of maligned, you HAVE to feel for this films lead, Kiyo. She’s the ultimate downtrodden, put-upon, heroine and it’s her journey and the stunning performance of Saya Minami, that truly hold the audiences attention even in the most troubling scenes. Oh, and although I say heroine, Kiyo is – ultimately – much more of an anti-heroine… let’s just say she and Paul Kersey have a lot in common!

If Hollywood had put out films like The Viper’s Hex instead of remaking existing J-horror and producing a myriad of unwanted sequels to The Ring and The Grudge then perhaps “Western” J-Horror would still be alive and kicking today. But then that would have taken the kind of balls it seems only indie filmmaking has these days!

***** 5/5

Easily my favourite of Heath’s work so far, The Viper’s Hex screened as part of this years MonsterFest in Melbourne.

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