MAY 20, 2012
Remember when Homer watched Twin Peaks and he was like “Brilliant... I have absolutely no idea what's going on...”? That’s sort of how I feel whenever I watch most Korean horror films, and Epitaph (Korean: Gidam) is no exception. I enjoyed my 100 minutes watching it, I even got scared a time or two, but if I had to provide a summary of its events, or even answer true or false questions about its plot points, I’d fail miserably. Ideally, I’d go back and watch it again before writing my review, but time does not allow for that. And if you think I’m joking – I haven’t even touched Skyrim in 6 weeks!
Let’s talk about what I DO know. I know it’s a period piece (even the “present day” framing scenes take place over 30 years ago), which is unusual for these things, at least the ones I’ve seen (since many are about haunting some sort of device). It’s mostly set inside a hospital, so apart from the lack of high tech equipment it’s hard to tell the difference, but those exteriors with cable cars and such, as well as the style of non-doctor clothing, are nice to see in the context of an Eastern horror film – I wish they’d make more of them (or, again, if this is just my ignorance, I wish more of them were readily available here). Period horror in general seems to be a smart idea; nowadays there are just too many variables to allow for the old clichés to work – kids getting lost or unable to call for help? GPS! Cell phones! Etc. Unless it has to for that particular plot, no horror film should take place past 1994 or so.
I also liked the loose anthology structure, in that it tells three mostly separate stories that entwine in certain ways. Again, I was a bit hazy on certain things, including the order in which they occurred (seems like there’s some back and forth), but it gave each segment a bit of flavor – the first was a traditional ghost story, the middle was a flashback driven tale about a little girl whose parents were killed, and the final was a serial killer mystery. The hospital and a few key characters are present in all, but the gist of each one was its own thing; sort of like Kingdom Hospital in a way, which had “case of the week” tales built into the overall story of this bizarre place. It actually gave me hope at the start of each tale – “Maybe I’ll totally make sense out of this one!” (never did; if anything it just got more confusing).
But if you want scares, it delivers. There’s a lot of fun surrounding a morgue and its storage cabinets (you ever notice that there are always 9 drawers and that the person we’re interested in is always in the exact center?), and even a few shock gory murders that I wasn’t expecting. But the best came in the first story, as a woman with blood dripping down her face/mouth first began making little squeals and yelps, and then just started speaking in tongues while making crazy eyes – it’s seriously chilling and creepy.
And it’s also kind of sad; all of the stories deal with someone who lost a loved one and how they deal with their grief – one guy becomes obsessed with a corpse, another becomes catatonic, etc. It’s the mental anguish stemming from these losses that usually results in the horror-centric things that follow, so throughout the movie you can’t help but feel sorry for pretty much everyone. There are no real “villains” per se, just a lot of broken hearts (and minds), unusual for a horror film in any genre.
There’s a lot of repetition though, and I don’t mean “we have to watch people going down the same corridor over and over” type of repetition. I mean we literally watch certain scenes twice, often without any real difference or discernible reason to show the whole thing again. Sure, some of that feeling might be due to the fact that I didn’t fully understand the movie, but do we need to see the entire bus accident a second time? We know the outcome, and we know what led up to it, so it seems unnecessary to show entire scenes over again. If someone could “Phantom Edit” this movie in chronological order and remove the padding, I’d totally make time to watch it.
But that’s why I’m excited about ending HMAD next year. There will be time for such things (re-watching movies that might require a second viewing, I mean, not re-editing them), and if I STILL don’t get a movie I watch, I don’t have to worry about trying to write up a review and letting you guys know how dumb I am. I can hide my shame!
What say you?