In the near future, the world reels from an outbreak of a mysterious illness called the Medousa Virus. It is so named because it reduces the human body to a stone-like corpse. There is no cure, and the disease is spreading, causing mankind to panic.
In a desperate attempt to save humanity, a powerful organization called Venus Gate offers a select group of those recently infected by the Medousa Virus the opportunity to be cryogenically frozen until a time when a cure for the disease is found. Only 160 people are allowed this honor. Among the lucky few is a high school girl named Kasumi. Both Kasumi and her twin sister Shizuku have the illness (it has already killed their parents) but only Kasumi was accepted into the Venus Gate project. Kasumi isn't thrilled about parting with Shizuku, but Shizuku is adamant that Kasumi accept the position and allow herself to be frozen in hopes of being able to have a normal life later.
Unfortunately, things don't go as planned. It seems like only moments after Kasumi enters the cryogenic sleep that she is abruptly woken, only to discover complete chaos in the lab. What was once a pristine medical facility with more security than a military compound, is now a ruined mess, overgrown with thorny vines and infested with killer dinosaur-like creatures.
How long was she asleep? What, exactly, woke her? Where did these monsters come from, and how can she escape the facility alive? What happened to Shizuku, and what is the secret behind the mysterious Medousa Virus? The movie follows Kasumi and a small band of survivors as they fight their way through the tangled vines and dangerous beasts in an effort to escape the ruined Venus Gate lab. Along the way, they slowly discover the truth behind their terrible situation and Kasumi discovers some shocking secrets about Shizuku and the sisterly bond that holds them together.
This is a typical survival horror story. It reminded me a lot of a recent film, “The Darkest Hour,” which followed a dwindling group of young adults trying to survive in a barren city after an alien attack, constantly on the run from the deadly creatures who systematically reduced the number of survivors. The same thing happens here. We have a small core group of survivors trying to flee the ruins of the deserted lab. We don't know how long they have been asleep - Days? Years? Decades? They are chased by powerful creatures, and slowly the number of survivors is reduced, conveniently killed in the order of how annoying they are, leading to a a final pair at the end.
This story is based on an original comic by Yuji Iwahara which was released in the US several years ago by Tokyopop. I have not previously read that comic, so I went into this movie blind. Perhaps that is why I was left with a generally confused impression of the film. My understanding is that the movie makes several key changes from the comic. The animation is nice to look at, the action is non-stop and exciting, and they do a good job at making some of the characters likeable enough that I cared what happened to them. However, the whole explanation behind the cause of the Medousa Virus is still a complete mystery to me. There is so much fast paced action, that they don't allow much time for a proper explanation. All kinds of important back story about the origin of the virus and the real meaning behind it is sort of tossed in quickly and casually with little time to really understand it. I was left a bit puzzled. There seemed to be a much more complicated explanation than the movie had time for. There's something about aliens, regeneration, hallucinations, an out of control AI, a mad scientist, and greedy politicians. I'm still not entirely sure wjat I just watched.
In the end, I decided I didn't really care so much about the logic behind it all and let myself just be carried along and enjoyed the action as it happened. I get the impression that this film works better as a companion piece to the original comic than as a stand-alone story.
“King of Thorn” is available as a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. For this review, I watched the 1080p HD 16:9 Blu-ray edition. The plot of this film may be a bit fuzzy, but the image sure is clear. This film looks great. The special effects glow with vivid clarity, the contrast between colors is rich and deep, and everything looks simply wonderful.
The blu-ray comes with strong Dolby True HD Japanese and English tracks. For my review, I watched the English dub. I found the voice acting was to be pretty awkward, with bad accents that wandered all over the place. However, the English dialog, adapted from the original Japanese, did flow nicely and maintained the spirit of the original, even if that original story was a bit obscure.
The extras included in this set are: TV ads, original Japanese and overseas trailers, a short film pilot version, an interview with the director, and a glimpse of a talk event at the Sunshine Cinema at Ikebukuro. I really enjoy extras that are related to the original Japanese production of the film, and was quite happy at the behind-the-scenes look offered in this set of extras.
For action fans, this will no doubt be a satisfying film. There is action and fighting galore here, with plenty of creative death scenes and a good amount of blood. While the premise behind all the action is a little murky to me still, the characters are likeable enough to carry me along for the ride. Though essentially a mishmash of a bunch of other sci-fi and horror films, King of Thorn” is still worth a watch for the good pacing, great action, and sympathetic characters.