The Booth (2005) (DVD)

When talk radio turns on, the booth turns deadly.

Holy f***ing crap, this is a good movie!

Shogo (Ryuta Sato) is the host of “Love Lines,” a late night radio call-in show where he offers advice and/or sarcastic remarks to the lovelorn. On this night, the station is in the process of relocating, forcing Shogo and his staff to use the antiquated Studio 6. Not only is all the equipment outdated, but there are stories about the studio being haunted. Rumor has it that an on-air talent committed suicide in the DJ’s booth decades ago. Shogo doesn’t want to hear any ghost stories, though; he just wants to do his show. As the night progresses, strange things do start to happen. Distorted sounds start coming out of the speakers, and Shogo’s callers are interrupted by a second voice on the airwaves, one which seems to know a secret about Shogo—something he doesn’t want the whole world to hear. It’s going to be a long night.

Every once in a while a movie comes out of nowhere and just surprises the hell out of you. The Booth was one such movie for me. As I get older and, I’m hoping, wiser, I find it’s harder and harder to sit back and just get swept away by a movie’s engrossing story. But this nifty little Japanese horror import got me. It got me good.

The first thing that impressed me about the movie was the efficiency in the storytelling. The entire back story about the out-of-date studio and why they’re using it for the night—as well as its possible haunted-ness—is breezed through quickly and smoothly, better than most films of this kind. This allows the characters and, more importantly, the audience to jump right into the story without first having to suffer through pages and pages of exposition at the start.

Another surprise was how all the events of the film happen while Shogo is on the air. By doing the entire story in “real time,”—well, with a few little cheats here and there—the filmmakers create a genuine feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia. Shogo’s trapped in that booth, not by a locked door, but by the eyes of everyone else in the studio and by the ears of hundreds of listeners. This gives the entire film a “you are there” sense of immediacy. And that, in turn, helps build the suspense.

I don’t know if Edgar Allen Poe was a direct inspiration for the film, but he’s certainly a spiritual ancestor to it. Just like the narrator in The Raven hears that knocking, or the protagonist of The Tell-Tale Heart can’t get the beating of the heart out of his head, Shogo too can’t stop his buried secrets from coming back to haunt him. This is accomplished through a series of increasingly clever reveals, each one adding a nice new twist to the story. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the creators pull another fast one on you. This is done through some quick flashbacks throughout the movie, that are well-done, and not a distraction. Like the better episodes of Lost, the flashbacks directly relate to the overall plot, while also providing insight to the characters’ thoughts and motivations.

There’s another spiritual ancestor to this film, and that’s Mr. “Good Evening” himself, Alfred Hitchcock. Some of my favorite moments from Hitch’s films are the ones where he takes something that would ordinarily be mundane, and turns it into something suspenseful. For example, if you were to watch any of the scenes near the climax of Rear Window out of context, you’d wonder what the big deal was. But because the tension and, yes, the character development have built up to that point, the audience is invested in what’s happening, and thus feeling the suspense. The Booth provides a similar experience. Don’t worry, horror fans, there are still quite a few jump scares and “oh, my God!” moments. It’s just that these moments are focused on little things, such as two characters’ eyes meeting, or the sound of static over a speaker. They become scary not because of what they are, but because the filmmakers and actors have built up to them appropriately.

Tartan Video has treated the film right as part of its “Asia Extreme” line. The picture is mostly good, although there did appear to some shimmering here and there. For audio, we get a DTS track and Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, all in Japanese with English subtitles. Although there are only a few big sound effects sequences, the DTS gives them the kick they need. When the booth’s speakers go haywire, you’ll be able to tell why the characters are so freaked out. It’ll sound like you’re in the booth with them. The other two tracks don’t have the same intensity as the DTS, but are serviceable. The three featurettes included reveal just how low budget the production was, and how many of the actors are new to the craft, making you appreciate how polished the finished film came out.

A lot of these Asian horror films have gotten Americanized versions in recent years, so I’m going to ask Hollywood right now, please don’t remake this. It’s a great little horror flick. It doesn’t need elaborate CGI effects, or funky blue lighting, or cell phone product placement. Just sit back and let viewers discover this DVD, or, even better, release it in theaters as is, and watch the word of mouth spread. What do you say, Hollywood?

It’s time for the “Your mileage may vary” disclaimer. Movie fans, especially horror movie fans, can be a fickle bunch, I know. The Booth really knocked my socks off, but some of you might react with a shrug and a “That’s it?”

Okay, here’s what you do. Step one: Buy The Booth. Step two: Bring it home. Step three: Stay up until about 2 a.m. or so. Step four: Turn off all the lights. Step five: Watch The Booth with the volume cranked to the max. Step six: Have the time of your life.

The Verdict

Not—hiss! squeak! static!—Guilty.

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