APRIL 16, 2008
One of the, I dunno, four good things about doing Horror Movie A Day is since I occasionally get movies to review without asking for them, I have a completely blank slate with which to watch it. Such is the case with Black House (aka Geomeun Jip), which I had never heard of, didn’t know the plot, not even what kind of horror movie it was. The cover suggested some sort of Saw/Texas Chainsaw type film, and the tagline just suggests complete crap ("The Address Where DEATH Lives"), but that was (thankfully) not the case.
Since it’s new, I won’t spoil anything, other than to say that it’s about an insurance investigator unknowingly getting into some disturbing shit. If I had I known the twist that occurs halfway through, the film probably wouldn’t have been as enjoyable. Not that it’s terrible surprising, but the film is carefully constructed, constantly building on what you know (or think you know). It’s also well paced, and for a change, fairly short for an Asian film (100 minutes, as opposed to the usual “thisclose to two hours” ones I usually watch). In fact, it could even be a bit longer; the deleted scenes are almost all worthwhile and could only be cut from the film for length (there is no commentary or any sort of marker that explains where the scenes would be in the film, though it’s not too difficult to figure out for the most part). There’s a subplot about a crowded elevator that perfectly encapsulates the lead’s attitude at the beginning of the film vs. what he is like at the end.
And it makes total sense! At no point during the entire film did I go “What the FUCK is going on!?”, or have to consult the IMDb synopsis to understand what I was seeing; truly a unique experience for an Asian horror film. On that note, I do suggest paying close attention to the names of supporting characters when they are introduced, as they are mentioned more often than they are shown, especially in the film’s final act.
It’s also nice to see a more rural area in one of these movies. A lot of them take place in urban locales, but the titular house seems to be in Korea’s version of northern Maine. And the hero isn’t a woman, also fairly rare. He’s a guy named Juno (though he's not pregnant, and there's a good reason for him not speaking simple English), and he’s sort of like the guy in 13 Games Of Death, a mild-mannered office drone who gets in way over his head just trying to do the right thing. The actor, Hwang Jung-Min, is quite good, as is the beautiful Yu Sun as the woman he attempts to help.
Music, also good. Direction, quite good (I loved the long shots in the final rooftop battle – as opposed to American horror movies in which the camera is seemingly just thrown onto the actors as they fight, resulting in a completely confusing scene). So do I have anything bad to say? Not really. There seems to be a translation error when it comes to discussing how much the insurance policies are worth – the child who dies at the beginning of the film is supposedly worth 30 million??? Normally it wouldn’t be a problem, but it is here (to explain why would be spoiler-ish – let’s just say that the person receiving the money almost instantly needs more, which is ridiculous. Even I couldn’t blow 30 mil in 2 days).
Also, there’s a scene where the hero needs to be told what a psychopath is. “Ever heard of psychopaths?” a cop asks him, and he’s like “nope.” Now, maybe Koreans are just less nuts than we batshit Americans, but it still seems a bit odd that a grown man would be completely baffled as to what a psycho was. It’s just an excuse to lay the groundwork for something that will be important later, so I wish they could have come up with something a bit less silly.
All in all, a solid thriller that proves that the Asian horror world is not all ghosts inside your electronics (the irony being that movies like this are far better than the Ju-Ons and Ringus that are primarily associated with the Eastern genre output. Sigh). It’s based on a book, I plan to get it if it has been translated into English. If not, I will get the audiobook. Those have subtitles, right?
What say you?