“Thorn” (BIFAN 2016): Unnerving Practical Effects and First-Rate Acting Highlight Psychic-Horror Short


Body and psychic horror abound in the Japanese horror short Thorn (2015) as a cactus with supernatural powers brings tragedy to a family. Writer/director/editor/special makeup effects artist Soichi Umezawa has crafted a film that shocks and touches, while also serving as a showcase for his amazing practical effects work.

Asuka Kurosawa stars as Keiko Takizawa, whose high-school student son Atsushi (Hayate Matsuzaki) is badly beaten by a trio of bullies. A cactus that Atsushi has owned since he was a young child holds the startling secret to exacting revenge. Keiko discovers this and other secrets regarding the cactus, making bizarre physical connections with the plant as well as a psychic one. It’s difficult to give more details than this without giving away spoilers, but rest assured that Thorn packs a wallop, with more than a fair share of deaths, gore, and gooey, outre special effects for its approximately 15-minute running time.

Keiko Takizawa (Asuka Kurosawa)  learns a deadly secret that her bullied son knew about all too well in writer/director Soichi Umezawa’s horror short Thorn.

Soichi Umezawa has more than 20 years of experience as a special makeup effects artist , including working with famed director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. His genre film credits in this capacity include Dead Waves (2005) and The Hybrid: Nue no ko (2015). Umezawa is best known to horror fans outside of Japan for his outrageous Y is for Youth entry in The ABCs of Death 2 (2014).  

Soichi Umezawa presents his story through flashbacks and using very little dialogue, an approach that proves quite effective. He sets a tone of eeriness and dread from the beginning of the short and continually builds on it. His practical effects are a highlight of Thorn, and Keiko’s interaction with the highly unusual cactus is not for the squeamish.

The leader of a trio of bullies witnesses acts of sudden, terrifying brutality.

Asuka Kurosawa is a renowned actress who should be familiar to fans of Japanese genre films. She is one of the stars of Tetsuya Nakashima’s brilliant  The World of Kanako (2014; reviewed here), which also screened at this year’s BIFAN, and her credits also include Sion Sono’s excellent, chilling serial killer tale Cold Fish (2010). She also appears in Y is for Youth. In Thorn, she gives a fantastic, near-wordless performance as a mother in deep pain, using her facial expressions and body language to convey that hurt. When Keiko communes with the cactus, the special effects are outstanding and spine tingling, and Kurosawa’s reactions are first rate, making for an unnerving scene that will make some viewers’ skin crawl. Kurosawa commands the screen whenever she is on it.

Although Thorn hints at bigger things, it is a complete tale unto itself as a short film. This story is certainly one that I would love to see expanded. The short is currently making the festival rounds, so keep an eye out for this highly recommended effort.

Thorn had its Korean premiere at the 20th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) in South Korea (July 21-31, 2016).

Thorn: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.