J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Random 11: the Prodigy vs. the Serial Killer

Mitsuko Unagi was a detective prodigy, like a Japanese Nancy Drew, but her latest adult case would turn the hair of the various Carolyn Keene ghostwriters ghastly white. A serial killer has been running circles around the Tokyo police, including Unagi. Thus far, she has been the only copper able to discern his patterns, but she is always a step behind the sinister mastermind throughout Tony Sebastian Ukpo’s Random 11 (trailer here), which releases today on DVD from Fenix Pictures.

On significance dates (Leap Year February 29th’s, ironic holidays), an unknown mass murderer somehow orchestrates the simultaneous deaths of eleven victims. Ten are chosen at random, but the eleventh is specifically chosen for some reason. At least that is Unagi’s current working hypothesis. Unfortunately, the killer seems to know she knows. He apparently deviated from the pattern during his latest horror show, leaving Unagi back at square one.

Rather embarrassed by the lack of progress, the political establishment perversely cuts the funding for Unagi’s task force, leaving only her and her trusty junior Junichi Otomo to work the case. It might not be farsighted, but it ironically gives Unagi greater flexibility. When she and Otomo discover the eleventh victim was murdered eleven thousand miles away in London, she duly picks up the trail there.

Random 11 features one of the creepier opening credit sequences in years. It is not wholly unprecedented in conception, but the execution is quite effective, setting the tone for what follows. In fact, that is true for the whole film. Although Random 11 was likely produced under severe budget constraints, its sparsely severe mise-en-scène is altogether chilling. This is a textbook case where less really is more.

Ukpo also has the advantage of a dynamite lead. If you liked the concept of the gothy wunderkind sleuth, but thought L. from the Death Note franchise was too chipper, than you have to meet Unagi. As the detective, Haruka Abe is convincingly brilliant in a social awkward kind of way. She maintains a sense of mystery and vulnerability that keeps us locked in right from the start.

In fact, Death Note is a decent comparison for Random 11, since Unagi and her Scotland Yard colleague seem to be fighting an almost omniscient foe. There is an intricate system to killings in both films, elevating them both well beyond standard issue serial killer thrillers.

Not exactly a spoiler per se, but the only real drawback to Random 11 is that it offers absolutely no closure whatsoever, trumpeting the coming of part two as the final credits roll. Otherwise, Random 11 is a genuinely suspenseful, hugely atmospheric micro-budget surprise. Highly recommended for genre fans, it is now available on DVD from Fenix Pictures.

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