APRIL 28, 2009
Having had enough of my increasingly frequent falling asleep during movies (I even dozed during Repo the other night for the first time ever, despite the lights and extra sound from the “Shadowcasters” adding to the insanity), I have decided to try something: the instant I feel myself getting heavier eyelids, I pause the film and get up, check my email, splash some water in my face, play a turn on Scrabble (on Facebook, where games can last weeks), whatever. Then I sit back down and resume viewing, presumably wide awake. So as a result, the 85 minute Voices (Korean: Du Saram-yida) took me over two hours to watch, but I saw every minute of it without having to go back and re-watch sections of the film. Hurrah!
(Of course, irony strikes - I ended up watching the entire thing over again anyway, because I couldn’t make sense of the ending, but more on that later.)
Anyway, Voices helps to solidify my feeling that this year’s After Dark Fest was the best yet. I didn’t outright love anything, but it’s more important that I didn’t hate or even dislike anything either (though I have yet to see Butterfly Effect 3, mainly because I haven’t seen 2). Everything was OK to good, which is fine by me. So where does Voices fit in? Well, for the first 45-50 minutes, I would say it was the best of the lot. However, director Ki-hwan Oh cannot sustain the first two acts’ pace or appeal, and the 3rd act, while far from bad, is a bit disappointing, and leaves a couple of things unresolved.
But the first 45 or so... oh man. Not only do we get a heaping of violence (the body count here is much higher than average for a Korean horror film), but it’s bloody as hell to boot. I’m talking full blown geysers of the red stuff, a la Nightmare on Elm St (mixed with the “full body red” look, think The Descent). Also, vicious stabbings, a fall from high that leaves an ever-growing pool of crimson... this may be the BLOODIEST Asian horror film of its kind that I’ve ever seen. Plus, the attacks pack a visceral punch; there's a scene where a would-be killer repeatedly smashes a car trying to get to our heroine, and I admit to jumping at the sound/strength of a window being smashed.
I also liked that it was a unique take on the curse/weird things happening type of Eastern horror film that we've seen so many times. It’s similar to Ju-On/The Grudge in a few ways, namely a curse that is seemingly born from intense anger and how it seems to focus on a few school girls (like Ju-On 2). But to its credit, that’s more or less where the similarities end. There are no ghostly children making noises, nor do any ghosts with long hair covering their faces make any appearance. Hell, I don’t even think water factors in to any of the scare scenes, which may be a first.
The problem is that after a rollercoaster first act and most of the second, it not only slows down (as expected), but it does so to answer questions, and doesn’t bother to answer them all. For example, all of the stories we hear about previous victims of the curse seem to involve family: mothers killing sons, brothers killing sisters, etc. But our heroine is attacked by pretty much everyone BUT her family. Her mother eventually takes a stab at it (pun possibly intended, I can’t remember what she used to attack her), but before then, a fellow classmate, a teacher, and her little nerdy buddy all try (and fail) to kill her. Her sister and father never even raise their voice. Obviously this setup has its perks - you’re never sure when she’s safe or when the person she’s with is going to suddenly lunge at her - but it leaves a fairly large plot hole.
Another issue is the twist ending, which also leaves some things unanswered (but at least puts the “family vs family” aspect back in place, sort of). I won’t spoil it (partially because I’m not entirely sure what happened), but it seems like the type of twist that could use a Saw-style montage that re-explains everything we saw before, something Ki-hwan Oh doesn’t offer (hence why I watched it again on my own, but it didn’t help beyond minor character details). The movie is based on a graphic novel, which I assume makes more sense. And if not, it probably has some tentacle rape or something. At any rate, it’s not the worst twist ever, but it definitely could have used a bit more audience hand-holding in its presentation. And I say this, for once, on the authority of someone who saw the entire thing!
There’s a scene that made me laugh out loud though. This guy is doing his Asian horror movie duty by living in an isolated house and giving our heroine a lot of exposition, which includes the story of when he killed his wife by throwing her in front of a goddamn bus. He then says “After serving time in prison...”, but he doesn’t appear to be much older, maybe 5 years. Is wife-icide not really a big deal in Korea? Potheads get more than that in America.
The DVD had no extras at all, so I finally selected the “Miss Horrorfest Webisodes” to see what the girls looked like and why they found these things so important that they had to stick them on every disc. One girl was pretty cute, but Suicide Girls rejects are not my type, so I had little interest in them or the god-awful editing on display (I’ve seen better work in high school public access films). Also, all together the episodes ran just under an hour, which means that’s an hour’s worth of video content eating up the bit budget for the DVD; space that should have been used for making ofs, audio commentaries, or even deleted scenes - things that were all but completely absent from this year’s batch. Pretty much bullshit, if you ask me. Not as bad as Paramount forcing those fucking worthless “Lost Tales from Camp Blood” things on the new Friday the 13th discs instead of cut footage or retrospectives that are worth a damn, but still pretty lousy.
So in a strictly visual sense, this is a winner. It’s gory, it’s visually exciting (I didn’t even mention the occasional monster that shows up), and unlike most Asian horror films, it’s on the short side of things. It’s also shot in the 2.35:1 aspect, a rarity for these things. However, it’s also needlessly confusing and seemingly incomplete (maybe it WAS supposed to be longer - again, having actual filmmaker input on the DVD instead of a bunch of attention whores work out their daddy issues via cheesy After Effects projects would be helpful). Your call.
One final note - the original title was Someone Behind You, which makes a lot more sense than Voices. No one hears any “voices” in the film (well, not ones of interest to horror movie fans), so why they changed it from something that DID make sense to something that didn’t is beyond me. Again - did someone Weinstein the shit out of this movie?
What say you?
And now, Horror Movie A Day and Happy Hour Comics would like to present the newest in an ongoing series of HMAD-inspired comic strips. I hope you enjoy!! (Click to enlarge)