Before We Vanish left me hungry to discover more of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s work. Fortunately, my MoviePass card came with a Fandor subscription, and the service is currently streaming The Guard from Underground, one of the director’s earlier efforts. I’ve seen this obscure J-Horror flick pop up elsewhere, always with average user ratings hovering in the range of two stars and change… so naturally, I loved it.
Granted, I can understand why it would alienate some viewers; it’s definitely rough around the edges. The transfer is rather faded and grainy… which feels somehow appropriate, reminiscent of watching Friday the 13th or Sleepaway Camp on VHS. The narrative is a slow burn, building tension for nearly an hour before the slaughter begins in earnest… and every single minute benefits the film; unlike the unapologetic filler in a lot of classic slashers, that screen time is expertly utilized to develop the characters and explore their everyday conflicts (our heroine must contend with workplace harassment and petty office politics, while the killer’s relationship with his unwitting accomplice fleshes out his motivations and bleak worldview), ensuring that we become fully invested in their desperate struggle to survive. Indeed, despite the villain’s penchant for sadistic torture, the most effective scares are more psychological than visceral, with the worst violence remaining tastefully obscured—though Kurosawa wisely shows just enough to spark the audience’s imagination.
Ultimately, The Guard from Underground isn’t the blood-soaked splatter-fest that the site’s description advertises. No, in my insufferably contrarian opinion, it’s far, far better.
[Originally written February 27, 2018.]