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In ‘Cure,’ the Brutality of Repression is Revealed

If there’s any film that’ll make you want to go to therapy and get it all out, it’s this grim, late-1990s murder movie

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s frightening dive into the human psyche, Cure, currently available to stream on Criterion Channel.

Detective Takabe (Kōji Yakusho) is a troubled man, trying to care for his dementia-suffering wife while attempting to solve a grisly string of murders occurring in Tokyo with the only connection being a bloody X carved into every victim’s neck. Even more strangely, in each of the incidents, the culprit is a different person, found near the crime scene soon after.

Part of what makes this set-up particularly haunting is that the violence erupts without warning from the normalcy and monotony of life. None of the perpetrators show any history of criminal behavior or mental illness, but they all confess to committing their vicious crimes with total calm (though not one of them is able to explain why they did what they did). The only thing linking each case is a (supposedly) nameless vagrant with extreme short-term amnesia they’d each met. He’s got the vibes of the creepiest stoner ever, but it’s unclear how he’s made these people commit such gruesome violence.

Cure was part of the wave of Japanese horror that came in the 1990s and 2000s, bringing films like Ring and Ju-on (each of which spawned the American remakes The Ring and The Grudge, respectively) to the mainstream. This movement could be best characterized by its emphasis toward restraint, frightening the audience with a constant unsettling atmosphere as opposed to the jump scares that ruled the horror genre at the time. It left more to the imagination, and this detective story is no exception.

Cure’s terror is emboldened by its understatement, with the camera showing events as they occur and little sound outside of what’s diegetic. It’s a haunting slow burn that shows not only the unraveling of a society but of a man as well. The further into the case Takabe gets, the more frustrated he becomes, not only with the perplexing details but with his own personal strains brought on by his ailing wife.

The state of the world is reflected in Takabe who tries to remain calm, but seems constantly on the edge of exploding from the weight of his choices and his inability to come to grips with what’s happening around him. His investigation of this unsettling wanderer’s influence on others’ violence is akin to staring into the abyss of human nature, and unfortunately, the abyss stares back, testing his supposed virtues.

Cure is a study in repression and resentment. It carries with it a frightening nihilism that speaks to a certain darkness in all of us and will make you reconsider how in touch with your true desires you are. Honestly, everyone in this movie should just go to therapy.

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.