APRIL 12, 2009
Most of the Asian horror films I see fall into one or both of the following categories: Ones I’ve been told are great (Audition) or ones that have been remade for dumber audiences (The Eye). It’s rare I see a film like Nightmare (Korean: Gawi), which has no remake (that I know of), nor had I even heard of it until about 17 seconds before I began to watch it. In fact, had it not been for Time Warner dropping Fearnet (thanks a lot, assholes!), I might still not have heard of it, as the lack of Fearnet in my “Free Movies” section inspired me to look - for once - at the other channels in there. Nightmare, as it turns out, was the only horror movie I could find.
Here’s one thing about the movie - it’s a fucking mess. The basic story isn’t totally terrible (it’s the umpteenth version of the “Friends keep a secret that eventually destroys them” tale), and there are some great visuals and isolated sequences sprinkled throughout the film. There are also numerous homages to the films of Dario Argento (a killer reflected in the eyes of a victim, for example) and an impressively varied soundtrack. In other words, I’ve seen worse. But the problem is, the good things are overshadowed by a needlessly confusing presentation.
For starters, director Byeong-ki Ahn frequently goes back and forth in time, something that would be a lot easier to follow had the timeframes been further apart, instead of 2 years. And most of the characters don’t really look any different (only one drastically changes his hairstyle), so you’re always spending the first minute or so of any time switch not really knowing that time has indeed shifted again. I don’t want frequent “2 years later” style onscreen text, but using a sound effect like Lost, or changing the color scheme or something, would have been very helpful and appreciated.
Second, the incident that kicks off the story is presented as a video. In theory, it’s a great idea - there’s a guy who keeps filming everything they do as a group anyway, so might as well tie it into the plot. Unfortunately, Ahn can’t be bothered to stay consistent with this POV, and the “video” often features angles that cannot be accomplished by a guy running around with a camera, not to mention the character himself, camera in hand (who the fuck is filming?!?!). It’s the clumsiest implementation of the device I have ever seen in a feature film; it could almost be used in a lame spoof of vérité films (paging Friedberg and Seltzer!).
Finally - the damn plot is hardly resolved! There is a seeming twist in which one of the characters reveals that he/she is the one that has been killing off the other group members one by one, and NOT the ghost, which we have been led to believe. But after he/she is dispatched, the goddamn ghost appears again and kills off one of the survivors. So did the ghost do everything, and the other person was just making shit up? Were they working together? Or, given the title, was the final sequence just a dream? Who the fuck knows.
There are other, less problematic issues as well, such as a sequence with a bloody woman in a shower that I couldn’t identify as one of the film’s characters, and a character talking about the “1979” murders committed by David Berkowitz (did he temporarily escape?). Also, the subtitles were incredibly terrible at times (and occasionally even cropped!), which just added to the general sloppy feel of the movie.
In short, I can see why no one has remade it (remaking promising but flawed films, of course, never actually happening even thought that’s actually the BEST reason to remake a film) or recommended it to me. Like I said, I’ve seen worse, but I, and presumably all of you, have also seen much better - from both sides of the world.
What say you?