Any gamer worth their callused thumbs and carpel tunnel will tell you one of the best horror video games ever made would be the Fatal Frame series. Fatal Frame otherwise known as Zero in Japan and Project Zero in Europe is a horror video game series that’s deeply rooted in Japanese culture and folklore putting players against violent ghosts and the only weapon you have is an old camera with magical powers. Sounds silly, but the games are anything but, I’ve played many horror video games over the years and watched many horror movies as well but none of them have literally haunted my dreams like Fatal Frame.
Needless to say, when I heard they were making a movie based off the first game I squeed how no man should but alas, the film was canceled which was possibly a good thing since it may have been whitewashed beyond recognition. I found out sometime later that eventually there was a movie released in 2014 called Fatal Frame or Gekijōban Zero in Japan. The film was directed by Mari Asato who’s no stranger to directing Japanese horror movies. Many fans of the game rejected this film on the grounds that it’s “not like the games”, maybe, the film is based off the only novelization of the game series titled Fatal Frame: A Curse Affecting Only Girls, written by Eiji Ōtsuka and illustrated by Foo Swee Chin.
Warning: lots and lots of Spoilers ahead! Don’t want the story spoiled? Scroll down to the final picture.
At an all-girls Catholic school, the most popular girl Aya (Ayami Nakajō) has locked herself in her dorm room after dreaming about her own death. A fellow student Kasumi (Kasumi Yamaya) begins to worry for Aya since she’s secretly in love with her. She learns about a love curse that if you kiss a picture of the person you love just before midnight they will fall in love with you. After Kasumi performs the ritual, she vanishes not long after.
Kasumi’s friend, Michi (Aoi Morikawa) finds the strange picture of Aya and soon falls under its spell as other girls have performed the same ritual (a couple against their will while in a trance), all the girls later were found dead in a river in town. Grief-stricken and worn down by the constant appearance of a ghost of Aya, Michi decides to let Aya’s ghost control her to make her kiss the picture and end her suffering. Just as Michi was about to kiss the photograph she’s saved, by Aya.
Aya reveals to Michi that the girl in the photograph is not her but she wants Michi to help her solve the mystery. The two seek out Mary (Noriko Nakagoshi) a middle-aged Gothic Lolita who is said to know about a curse at the school. Mary tells the girls that her home used to be a photo studio where local girls who were lesbians came and had their pictures taken and would make vows to one another, mostly being vows of a suicide pact since in the town (and Japan and a Catholic school in general) homosexuality especially among women is taboo.
Mary points out the couple that started the curse that’s affecting the school and reviles that the two girls had a suicide pact in which one of them did not fulfill giving birth to the curse. Mary’s son Susumu who goes around the town and countryside taking pictures of “ghosts” comes home and sees the photograph of Aya’s doppelganger and says it was a ghost he saw at the dried up lake and he gave the picture to a girl (Kasumi). While investigating the old lakebed, Aya has a flashback memory of the time she failed to save another girl from drowning revealing to Michi that she’s an orphan who lived at the school with another orphan who died. During this conversation, Aya in so many words comes out to Michi as a lesbian.
Michi decides that she will kiss the picture and let herself wander away to wherever the other girls have gone while being tied to Aya’s wrist by a long red string. While entranced and wondering in the woods with Aya in tow, the string breaks during an earthquake leaving Aya alone wandering through the woods before being attacked by the school’s gardener and brother to one of the nuns, Takashi (Kodai Asaka) who takes the unconscious Aya to a building in the woods that houses a large water tank and drops her in.
While in the water, Aya sees the same image as she’s seen in her dream in the beginning of the film and remembers this was the place where the other girl drowned and it’s revealed that Aya’s “ghost” and the drowned little girl is really the ghost of Maya, Aya’s twin sister and explains that she was alone for a long time and as Aya grew so did she and she got the curse rolling in order to see Aya again and that she wanted Aya to remember her and to live a happy life thus lifting the curse.
Michi was found and knocked unconscious by Takashi’s sister Mayumi (Yuri Nakamura) who then took Michi to the river and is about to drown her when she sees her brother who tells her that he found the “girl from the water” and that he put her back. It’s revealed that Mayumi killed the girls who were affected by the curse; they would wander towards the water storage where she would be waiting and would knock them out and drown them in the river, all this to prevent others from finding Maya who Takashi often goes and leaves flower offerings in the water. As the two rushed back to where Takashi left Aya, Takashi falls into the river and starts to drown, Mayumi goes to help him but when a police search party shows up, Mayumi lets Takashi drown later it’s reviled that she drowned herself with him.
Michi and Aya eventually meet up and confirm the curse is lifted. Afterwards, during graduation, Mary comes to the school and meets with the Headmistress (Jun Miho) eventually confronting her with the picture of the two girls that started the curse revealing that the Headmistress was the one who backed out of the suicide pact. Her lover’s ghost haunted her ever since till finally the Headmistress believed that if the spirit of her old love was not alone, she would be free of her ghost. She brings Aya and Maya to the place where her love drowned herself (the water tank in the woods) and explained to the twins that one has to die, Maya offered herself since she was the oldest and without hesitation, the Headmistress throws her in the water. As Maya reached for Aya for help the Headmistress pulls Aya’s hand away preventing her from helping her drowning sister.
In the end, Michi plans to go to Tokyo to become a photographer to honor Kasumi who wanted to be one. Aya decided she was going to stay in the town. Mary’s son arrives with his camera at the request of Michi who wants to take a picture of Aya before she goes. When she looks in the viewfinder of the camera, Michi sees the smiling ghosts of the girls who all died and questions if she was really seeing them. She then tells Aya that she’ll take her picture when she’s a photographer and asks Aya to wait for her implying that she has fallen in love with her.
The term “A curse affecting only girls” also the title of the story the movie is based on, is explained early on in the film as the curse being heartache as a result of love, a common theme in the film’s storyline along with the constant mention of Ophelia from Hamlet. Ophelia was Hamlet’s love who he rejected as he was overcome with the desire for vengeance resulting in her taking her own life by drowning herself. The Headmistress has the painting resembling Sir John Everett Millais’s work that depicts heartbroken Ophelia floating down a stream.
When it comes to people saying the film has nothing to do with the game, I’ll be blunt, they’re wrong. The film and story have a lot of the game’s elements. First off, the camera Mary’s son uses looks a lot like the Camera Obscura from the game series that allows you to see ghosts while viewing through the viewfinder. Second, twin sisters where one has to be sacrificed, the red string Michi and Aya had tied around their wrists, a sibling with a lame leg who’s a silent burden of the older sibling who looks after them, it’s totally Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, if anything I think this film is drawn more from that game.
Finally the third element, a curse is born after a ritual failed. This is the main plot to every Fatal Frame game. A ritual that normally goes off without a hitch somewhere along the line fails and a curse is born with one vengeful spirit at the center of it. Kirie (Fatal Frame) and Reika (Fatal Frame III: The Tormented) where suppose to be sacrificed which part of it was they were not supposed to be bound to earth but they both fell in love not long before their deaths thus binding them to earth and failing their respected rituals. Sae (Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly) was supposed to be strangled by her younger twin sister but was hanged after he sister successfully escaped the ritual resulting in her spirit becoming evil.