Frightfest: New Religion (2022)

Director: Keishi Kondo

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Starring: Kaho Seto, Satoshi Oka, Saionji Ryuseigun, Daiki Nunami

Opening his feature debut in an attention-grabbing manner, writer/director Keishi Kondo sets evocative sights to a red colour palette and a mystifying score. This enthralling entrance transitions into the tranquil sight of Miyabi (Kaho Seto) reading a book in her flat, while her daughter waters plants on the balcony. That tranquility is shattered in an instant, as the daughter accidentally falls to her death.

Three-years-later, the now divorced Miyabi lives with her new boyfriend (Saionji Ryuseigun) while working as a call girl. She meets a strange client (Satoshi Oka) who speaks foreboding words through a bass speaker, and has an obsession with moths. He asks to photograph Miyabi's body parts individually, an odd request which allows the grieving mother to feel her daughter's spirit with each taken photograph.

Living in the same apartment where she experienced unimaginable loss while regularly watering her daughter's plants, Miyabi seems trapped within an unending nightmare. She feels deserving of bad things which come her way, as exemplified in an uncomfortable scene with her angry ex-husband. Her only source of hope is the sweet boyfriend who just wants to help. Kaho Seto exceptionally captures the lead characters' struggle to pick up the pieces in her life, and how the apparent return of her daughter's spirit changes things so dramatically.

As the same moth image is repeatedly shown, symbolizing desire and the fragility of life, this melancholic feature builds intrigue across the measured pace before transitioning to unsettling elements. One memorable scene shows Miyabi scrolling through a missing co-workers social media, revealling creepy parallels between the past and present which hints that something more is happening.

As grief is faced head-on, the promise of a step towards better days arrives yet feels out of reach. Damage has been done, as an emotionally vulnerable person has been preyed upon and manipulated into committing heinous acts. Kondo's accomplished debut gets under ones skin, threatening not to let go as it lingers in the mind.

New Religion made its World Premiere at Frightfest 2022