J-horror, K-horror… Y-horror?
Since discussing the impact of J-horror on American horror cinema is already considered bad manners, film critics direct their attention to a series of regional re-inventions, namely from South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand. However, not many people know that the Ring virus has spread up north-west from Japan to ex-Soviet area.
Path of Death/Тропа смерти (2008), as well as its sequel Path of Death 2: Redemption/ Тропа смерти 2: Искупление (2009), are abundant with well-known motives and imagery of J-horror. At the centre of the film is a ghastly young woman with Medusa-like piercing eyes hidden behind long black hair. Her victims are found with looks of unearthly anguish on their faces, “dead of fright”. Sounds familiar?
As the film’s official website states, Path of Death made in 2008 is the first youth/horror film of Yakutia, which although being an achievement is also an excuseless shortcoming for Yakut cinema, taking into consideration the world-wide popularity and cost-effectiveness of J-horror and Asian extreme cinema in general.
The action of the film takes place in Yakutsk – the city in the North-East of Russia, the capital of Yakutia, one of the federal subjects of the Russian Federation. The film’s main characters, Dmitry, Nikolay, Ilya and Pyotr, equipped with beer and vodka, leave the city to chill out in the nature’s lap. The reckless youths, disrespectful of their antecedents’ traditions, stir up a nest of hornets unawares. As the restless spirits and long-forgotten incidents of the past are brought back to life, the youngsters get to experience some real shamanist shenanigans.
What inspired the creators of the film is that, up to the present day, there is a very strong presence of paganism in the cultural life of Yakutia. The traditions of shamanism, a form of priesthood originated in Eastern Siberia, underpin the plot of Path of Death. Therefore the film, while being an obvious rip-off, nevertheless has a very strong national dimension.
Citing the ancient Yakut legend, the opening title of the film informs that a shaman, in order to gain powers, has to go through a process of rebirth by facing evil spirits. Not a single soul can be near him during this process. The evil spirits shear and devour shaman’s flesh, and then recreate it. The longer the torture, the more spirits taste shaman’s flesh, the stronger he becomes.
The person who witnesses shaman’s rebirth is cursed: he or she becomes a wandering evil spirit feeding on human souls. Here’s when our beloved ghastly woman, the Asian monstrous feminine comes in. She was a young and reckless girl, who happened to be next to a shaman during his rebirth. No wells involved.
The technology element is also absent from the Path of Death. Unlike Ringu (1998) with its cursed video tape and telefone calls, Path of Death can be labelled as pure ethno-horror, relying only on indigenous legends, superstitions and beliefs.
We have to warn you that the Path of Death films are shot rather unprofessionally, haven’t had any commercial success and most likely won’t result in a wave of Y-horror. They are more of an amateurish interpretation of Japanese horror flicks; but, knowing how unimpressive and dull Russian horror films are in general (see The Return of the Soviet: the case of the New Russian Horror cinema), we give Path of Death duology 5/5 for the effort.