X-Cross arrived a few years after the stream of creepy horrors that had poured out from Japan in the late 1990s and early 2000s had started to run dry. As such, it can initially be dismissed as a clichéd cash-in on films such as Ring (1998), Dark Water (2002), and The Grudge (2002), as well as the endless run of American slasher horrors with which it has some superficial similarities. However, there are no ghosts in this story, and its premise borrows more characteristics from The Evil Dead (1981) than Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees. The film is an entertaining thriller tinged with moments of black humor, rather than an atmospheric horror.
Shiyori (Nao Matsushita) and Aiko (Ami Suzuki) are two friends who decide to get away from the city to visit an onsen (hot springs) resort in the mountains, following Shiyori’s split from her boyfriend. The resort they find is particularly secluded, and is surrounded by a village where the residents are not only elderly but inexplicably eccentric. They soon begin babbling and intruding on the friends’ privacy after their guests have just started relaxing in the baths. All of a sudden, they are separated as hordes of villagers try to kidnap them for sinister reasons.
The film maintains interest by having the story split between Shiyori and Aiko. They become separated, and as their phones briefly make use of the sparse phone signal, the two points of view interweave. Not only do the two friends have to avoid the villagers, but Aiko is chased by a jealous former lover of an ex-boyfriend too. She just so happens to be armed with a pair of giant scissors. This detail could have been linked to the villager’s ulterior motives, as they are obsessed with X-shaped crucifixes and the severing of women’s legs. However, this is nothing but a bizarre coincidence, though one which adds a lot of entertainment to the story.
Shiyori simply flees from the villagers in various situations, with the antagonists often presented as a combination of zombie hordes and members of a brain-washed cult. She eventually finds out who is leading these vicious villagers, though horror aficionados are likely to see the twist coming early on. Much more unexpected is the sudden interruptions from Reiko (Mayu Ozawa), the scissor-armed stalker. At first, Aiko also plays the clichéd damsel that must flee for her life – until she just get frustrated and decides to pick up a chainsaw. All of a sudden, the film switches gear and is given a huge shot of adrenaline. Reiko is also an entertaining character because of her costumes, and due to the fact that she keeps on chasing Aiko, in the style of the best slasher horrors. Her intrusion into Shiyori’s flight for her life satisfyingly makes the character even more bewildered, as her story eventually links back up with Aiko’s. It has to be said that by the end, Reiko steals the show and deserves her own film.
Director Kenta Fukasaku is now making much more sombre dramas and comedies, such as Ken & Mary: The Asian Truck Express, and Map of Summer Vacation – both from 2013. However, X-Cross and similarly high-octane (but low-budget) features illustrated he had both a great sense of humor and an eye for spectacle – as illustrated in Yo Yo Girl Cop (2006). Even in the flawed Battle Royale II (2003), the cheeky attempts at humour shine through the film’s numerous missteps. It is a shame that Fukasaku is not making more of these sorts of features, as he clearly has a desire to entertain his audience.