King of Thorn (Blu-ray Review)

Kazuyoshi Katayama, the director of Appleseed and the Big O series, unleashes a violent survival film in which the distinction between dream and reality dissolves. Panic spreads worldwide as the Medousa Virus – a fatal pandemic that solidifies the body to stone – threatens to wipe out the human race.  160 infected individuals are selected to be cryogenically frozen while a cure is developed. Kasumi is one of those chosen for the experimental program. Forced to enter without her twin sister, Shizuku, her distress multiplies when she awakens to find the facility overrun with thick, thorny vines and ravenous monsters.  As Kasumi and six others fight a losing battle to escape this labyrinthine nightmare, questions cloud her distorted mind.  Where is her sister?  Why did their only salvation mutate into a deathtrap?  If they survive, how much longer do they have to live?


Adapted from a popular Japanese graphic novel, King of Thorn – not a Japanese series, finally, but a 110-minute standalone feature – bids fair to be a bloody, R-level, apocalyptic science-fiction spin on the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty, plus a few other mythic archetypes – though influences of the Alien movie franchise (and its more out-there sequels and prequels) notably prevails.

The setting is the year 2012 (the picture was released in 2010).  The sight of a woman in New York placidly falling from the sky and smashing into powder on the pavement announces with a bang the sinister onset of the contagious, always-fatal Acquired Cellular Induration Syndrome – ACIS – also called the Medousa virus.  It’s a great build-up, as media worldwide report on the panic spread by this enigmatic disorder that turns victims to stone.

A biotech giant (whose shady Russian founder is suspected of creating ACIS to fulfill his Christian cult’s end-times prophecy) announces he has retrofitted a Gothic Scottish castle as high-tech hibernation center for an international selection of patients, to revive when a future cure is found.  But, of course, something goes badly wrong, and after an indeterminate period of time the sleepers awaken to a nightmare of ravenous monsters and giant brambles spread throughout the ruined complex, all seemingly bent on tearing everyone to gory pieces.

Okay, so far so good, with more than ample clues along the way that not everything here is as it seems (and how it seems is pretty warped already).  One of the “patients,” a supposed convict, is actually an undercover SAS supercommando so sculpted that his sixpack abs have sixpack abs.  Frantic techs and medics know more than what they are telling, and even the waiflike Japanese orphan schoolgirl at the heart of the story, the ever-in-peril Kasumi, is something other than appearances would suggest.  Solving the enigma goes to the heart of existence, evolution, perhaps even God, in a mind-bending sort of everything-connected-to-everything-else (and Alien-imitation monsters) metaphysical whirl.  It might be giving away a bit of the game that, amidst the complexities and high symbolism, confused viewers might dread that in this end this will cop out with the oldest twist in the book, that this was all a dream.  That’s true, but only to an extent.

Director Kazuyoshi Katayama gives advice in the “extras” interview to give this movie repeat viewings, to catch all the clues the second time around.  That is good counsel.  Even then, however, trying to figure out what went on and why is a chore, but one with some sense-of-wonder rewards.


Superb CGI-assisted graphics and designs keep the production visually mesmerizing even when the storyline confounds.  The picture is your standard 16×9 on the DVD and 16×9 1080p HD native on the Blu-ray disc in this two-disc combo pack.  What else can you say except perfect.  Everything is crisp and clear.  Reference anime.


The Blu-ray comes equipped with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track packaged with dialogue options in both English and Japanese.  The DVD version contains the usual Dolby Digital surround track, also featured in both languages.  English subtitles are also an option.  The tracks offer plenty of dynamics and excitement to get your blood curdling.


Besides the usual trailers and promo films, there is a good interview with director Kazuyoshi Katayama and a Q&A with a film-festival audience.  In a something-you-don’t-see-every-day moment, the original King of Thorn manga creator Yuji Iwahara shows up in person; one wishes there were a bit more with him.


Don’t be scared off by the familiar-seeming pitch of a horror-epic reboots of fairy tales (we mean you, Snow White and the Huntsman); this is creepy and compelling, if mega-complicated stuff.


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