‘Laplace’s Witch’ Review: Oh Miike, It’s a Pity, This Film Is So Dull (Fantasia 2018)

This is what it takes to bore Takashi Miike.

The legendary Takashi Miike has made brilliant films, terrible films, and roughly ninety more that fall in between those extremes. He averages roughly two features per year moving between genres like he’s playing a game of hot potato, and while last year’s Blade of the Immortal sits near the high end he’s chased it with a far lesser film. Laplace’s Witch is a mystery with some mildly supernatural elements, but forget suspenseful — this movie’s not even interesting.

A body is found in the snow outside a small town, and a bic city detective believes it’s murder. He’s at a loss as to explain it, though, and brings in a geology professor named Shusuke Aoe (Sho Sakurai) to officially confirm it’s no accident. A second victim is found, and while the cause is shown to be poisoning by way of a gas the mystery as to how exactly it happened remains. The arrival of a young woman named Madoka Uhara (Suzu Hirose) complicates things further as she exhibits a strange ability to predict the “future” based on natural interactions with the world.

The setup intrigues as we’re given something of an inverse locked-room mystery — people murdered outside by a gas that would disperse in the air currents — but the complete explanation is dripped into frame like an IV you desperately want to dial up in speed to numb the pain. You can’t, though, and are instead stuck watching pieces of a puzzle slowly come into view through repetitive exposition. Each new tidbit is revealed, repeated, and revisited, and while it might be bearable if the details were crafting an engaging tale we’re not nearly that lucky.

As suggested by the film’s title. the eventual answers are based around a theory posited by French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace involving causal determinism. Taking the natural world into account — gravity, force, speed, etc. — Laplace’s “Demon” can predict an outcome, and in that sense predict the future. The story comes into play regarding this theory, its application, and the actions of those involved, but good gravy is it all just so damn dull.

There’s no tonal excitement to the performances, and while a few chuckles slip through — usually due to unexpected reactions — the film as a whole is something of a flat line. Wonder and surprise are muted, and when darker beats come to light later on they fail to carry the weight the revelations should because the film’s so endlessly one-note.

And I do mean endlessly. At two hours the film long overstays its welcome. A lot can be done with that kind of running time, but it’s not necessary here as so much of the exposition is spoken slowly and then repeated a short while later. And then again in another half hour. And then later in the third-act wrap-up.

Miike’s known best as a provocateur of violent and dark cinema, and while films like Ichi the Killer and Audition certainly fit the bill he’s also directed kids films and family fare to big box-office success. Less popular but absolutely brilliant are movies like Happiness of the Katakuris and Visitor Q which fit the “family” descriptor while also including zombies, claymation interludes, incest, extreme lactation, and more.

He’s not one to be bound by genre, but with his adaptation of Keigo Higashino‘s novel Miike’s stuck in a world that’s far too rigid in its A to B story. The A can be whatever, but the B needs to deliver, and it fails to do so here… in spectacularly dull fashion. Laplace’s Witch is low-end Miike, so if you’re working your way through his filmography feel free to push this towards the end of the list.

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