A well-tumbled jade of thriller triple-crosses and noirish iconography, Hideo Nakata’s Chaos lacks the subterranean frisson of his Ring cycle but maintains their concision and fearsome ellipticality. Blithely cha-cha-ing its way back and forth in narrative time without so much as a clue for the viewer, Chaos begins with a simple kidnapping—an executive’s lithe, ravishing wife (Miki Nakatani) disappears from a restaurant’s front curb after lunch, and almost immediately she’s hog-tied somewhere, the threatening kidnapper (Masato Hagiwara) making a confident ransom call to the all-business hubby (Ken Mitsuishi). Soon enough, however, our concept of the crime gets capsized: Doubling back, we see that the wife had enlisted Hagiwara’s baffled handyman to fake the abduction, a process that goes smoothly enough to summon s&m impulses in both faux victim and thug.
Naturally, the worm turns again and again in this demi-Hitchcockian death trap, and Nakata knows how to shoot scenes of breath-holding paranoia: from a distance, simply, in real time. (We’ll see how the inevitable remake, directed by Jonathan Glazer, measures up.) Nakata continues to get the most out of the accusatory glare of gorgeous women, and Nakatani constitutes an irresistibly luscious femme in the James M. Cain mold. Perhaps it’s the clammy residue of the Ring films, but Chaos also seems to collect a mood of rainy, outland menace even as it stalks around daylit urbania. The night visits to a shallow grave and a neglected aquarium full of dead fish resonate as memorable genre tropes, although in the end that may be all they are. However surefooted and wicked, Nakata’s film may seem a trifle routine; contemporary thrillers have become so much more baroque than any real-life felony that they tend to resemble one another. The convolution becomes the end, not the means. Still, devotees of corpse-swapping betrayal orgies will find expert filmmaking awake to the realities of apprehension and unease.