It’s June, which means we’re in the heart of summer blockbuster season — and you might already be tired of superheroes, giant monsters, and mind-numbing explosions. Fortunately, video-on-demand presents no shortage of alternatives. 2014 happens to be the 30th anniversary of the Criterion Collection, which aims to father “the greatest films from around the world.” All month, we’ll be counting down a few of their strong offerings currently available to stream on Hulu. This week: Cure.
After Silence of the Lambs swept the Oscars in 1992, studios across the globe pumped out a bunch of a serial killer thrillers designed to provide the same kind of thrills. Some, like Seven, were strong enough to stand on their own; others, like Kiss the Girls, offered grim, paint-by-numbers narratives that should never have made it into production.
But I’m betting many ardent thriller fans haven’t seen — or even heard of — one of the best and strangest serial killer dramas to emerge from that wave in the ’90s: Cure, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s chilly, unsettling breakout thriller that arrived in Japan in 1997 (and earned a limited release stateside several years later).
Cure follows Takabe, a police officer investigating a bizarre string of murders in which a large X has been cut into each victim’s throat. Each murder has been committed, seemingly independently, by a different killer — and when questioned, none of them can recall why they suddenly decided to kill someone, or what the carved X really means. As Takabe grows increasingly obsessed with solving the seemingly inexplicable string of crimes, his own sense of judgment — and reality — begins to come into question.
With that premise alone, Cure could have been a creepy, enjoyably middlebrow ride — but it quickly becomes clear that this film has far more on its mind than your typical serial killer thriller. As Takabe digs deeper and deeper into the heart of the mystery, we meet the man he doesn’t yet know is at its center: Mamiya, a disheveled vagabond who expresses constant confusion about who and where he is (and often immediately after those things have been explained to him). When the two finally meet, after a slow, riveting build-up in which they’re drawn closer and closer together, Cure has amassed a tension that propels it to a staggering final act.
In the two lead roles, both Koji Yakusho and Masato Hagiwara deserve ample credit for their magnetic performances. But much of Cure's power is due to the top-notch work of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who generally positions the camera at an uncomfortably chilly, almost voyeuristic distance — making the sudden, unpredictable explosions of violence all the more powerful.
Watch Cure this weekend, but don’t watch it alone — if only so you can spend the rest of the night debating the meaning of the brilliant, cryptic final scene.