The Viper’s Hex (Australia, 2018)

The Viper’s Hex tells the story of Kiyo (Saya Minami), a prostitute who gets romantically involved with Anchin (Kenji Shimada), a young man from Australia who is on holiday in Japan with friends. Anchin breaks things off and soon after Kiyo discovers she is pregnant. When he finally returns her calls, he questions whether he is the baby’s father, saying that it could any one of her many customers. Devastated, Kiyo goes to her parents who disown her claiming she has dishonored the family. When her pimp Tetsuya (Yoji Yamada) finds out, he gets rough, telling her to get an abortion. With nowhere else to turn, Kiyo considers suicide but instead turns to the demon that she has been cursed with since birth, known only as the viper (Kaori Kawabuchi). The viper propels Kiyo into a life of murder and mayhem, all in the name of revenge.

Co-directed by Addison Heath and Jasmine Jakupi, The Viper’s Hex is an interesting film that feels more like drama than horror, although the final third certainly brings the blood and gore. Kiyo has had a rough life and things just seem to be getting worse for her. She is not bringing in enough money for her pimp, who is abusive and controlling. He tells Kiyo that maybe she is getting too old because she isn’t making any money. When he finds out about her relationship, he tells Kiyo that she belongs to him and threatens her with death if she doesn’t get an abortion. The viper makes another appearance and persuades Kiyo to kill Tetsuya, which she does rather violently. Then Kiyo and the viper follow Anchin to another city in Japan. With the help of the viper, Kiyo has gone from a victim of abuse and misogyny to a woman enacting her revenge. All of the men here are basically scum, including Kiyo’s father. But the viper has always been with Kiyo and now gives her the strength she needs to curtail her downward spiral.

Kiyo’s story is quite bleak and Minami is excellent as the lost and abused young woman, enabling the viewer to empathize with the character even as she carries out brutal acts. Yamada and Shimada are equally dynamic in their roles, taking the misogynistic nature of these men to the point that the viewer will practically cheer on Kiyo as she seeks her revenge. The viper is charismatic and seems to have Kiyo’s best interest at heart. Is she a demon or a spirit guide, helping Kiyo reach her own potential? The Viper’s Hex is a strong film, even though most of it deals with Kiyo’s tragic life and less with the horror it seems to want to deliver. The viper isn’t actually terribly fearsome. It’s more that Kiyo has reached such a low point that she succumbs to the specter’s charms quite easily.

In addition to the sterling performances, direction and technical elements are also well done. Many scenes are shot strikingly, giving a sense of claustrophobia, which mirrors the life that Kiyo finds herself trapped in, while the horror effects are adequate considering the low budget. It’s a dark story but a worthwhile one that is worth seeing.