WARNING: DO NOT PLAY *** South Korea 2019 Dir: Kim Jin-won. 86 mins
Opening in familiar territory with a jump scare involving a cell phone screen and an underground car park, this occasionally scary riff on J-horror tropes of the early 2000’s weaves layers of reality and different time periods into a derivative “cursed video” plot. Budding screenwriter / filmmaker Mi-Jung (Ye-ji Seo), under pressure to come up with something “good” or face unemployment, takes inspiration from an urban legend about an infamous screening of a horror film purportedly made by a ghost. An investigative heroine in the tradition of Nanako Matsushima in RING (1998), she talks to film majors with their own stories on the event and is contacted by the original director, Jae-Hyun (Jin Seon-Kyu), who begs her to delete the “found” clips she uncovers.
There are obvious echoes of earlier films on a similar theme, alongside lazy only-a-nightmare scares, but writer-director Kim Jin-Won (who made 2007’s forgettable THE BUTCHER) generates dread and suspense from the scenes of the heroine exploring darkened rooms with her cell phone torch, a long-haired, burnt-faced female ghost inevitably lurching into view. It cleverly incorporates found footage into a conventional third-person procedural ghost story so that we watch the “found” footage with the protagonists before a novel twist flips expectation. Much more gruesome than the traditionally suggestive films of its inspiration, it offers a couple of jarringly visceral moments courtesy of a vicious, razorblade-wielding spectre. Some of the references feel self-conscious and dated (notably an onscreen name-checking of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT), but the story has an in-built reverence for horror as a genre that touchingly echoes the main thesis of WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE. Horror is viewed as a mode of entertainment that can “save” people from the most difficult periods of their lives, with THE EXORCIST cited as a key example.
Review by Steven West