Equal parts head-spinning comedy and sprawling ick-fest, Higuchinsky’s Uzumaki (at the Pioneer) puts most American would-be chillers to shame. Purporting to tell of “strange things that happened” in a Lynchian nowheresville, this relentlessly frisky movie puts a few Japanese high school kids in trouble when a spiritual plague borne by curlicue patterns invades the town. Grown men become mesmerized by escargot shells and spinning hair-salon signs; girls attain popularity via towering crimped curls borrowed from dame Patti LaBelle; sluggish boys show up to school only on rainy days dripping with Spam jelly. Par for the genre course is a cute, dysfunctional couple; here it’s grounded schoolgirl Kirie (Eriko Hatsume) and her tight-assed pretty boy, Shuichi (fey Fhi Fan, with eyebrows shorn to approximate Devo-hood), who try to stave off the town’s multiple disasters—the slime, finger-snipping, and nature freak-outs.
Uzumaki (“Spiral”) bears the mark of Higuchinsky’s music-video training—a set of gaudy gear-shifts as indebted to unrepentant sick fuck Miike Takashi as taste-mincing flaneur Baz Luhrmann. Close watching yields CGI spiral patterns that tuck into skyscapes and rock walls at nigh subliminal moments, as in those once trendy Magic Eye fractal books; the senses-stirring surge is generally delivered with a bulging funhouse lens. Like Ring, Uzumaki ironically trumps current American horror by paying unwinking homage to the Exorcist–Carrie–Omen boom. With playful, compelling gore having slowed to a near trickle stateside, Uzumaki demands attention.