JANUARY 17, 2013
Since the installments are unrelated, it doesn't matter much that Whispering Corridors (Korean: Yeogo Goedam) is the 3rd of the series I've seen, and if anything had I started here I might not have bothered to check out the sequels. Both of the ones I've already reviewed (Memento Mori and Voice, the 2nd and 4th entries) are superior to this, which isn't bad, but didn't leave much of an impression, either. If you have only seen the original - keep going! They get better!
They also get more convoluted. It's ironic - this is the one I've had the least trouble following, but I DID find myself struggling to stay interested, particularly in the middle act. It wasn't so much that it was slow - I was prepared for that - but the movie was just sort of hanging out with itself, recycling plot points over and without any forward momentum. The film starts off great, introducing both the ghost and what she does that should make us afraid of her, and then there's some fine off-kilter bits as we meet our protagonists (who discover the body of the woman killed in the intro), but then it becomes a drama for close to an hour, and not a very compelling one at that - apart from a kill scene at the one hour mark, there is nothing horror-centric outside of the first and last reels. So I WAS confused, but not in a "Who is that?" "Why did that happen?" type way - it was more of a "What is this actually ABOUT?" way.
To be fair, I know nothing about Korean schools, and from what I understand from the film's Wiki page, the sort of verbal (and occasional physical) abuse from teachers was a real problem there. But if you're going to expose the negative side of the school system, do so! Don't just slide it in to the middle of a horror movie to kill time because your ghost story isn't that involved. Unsurprisingly, once the 3rd act kicks into gear, the abusive teachers are pretty much MIA, focusing on the three girls at its center and solving the mystery of which one is the villain. In short - it's unfocused as all hell.
That said, it's still a decent start for the series, setting up what would become its trademarks: all girls' schools, vengeful ghosts, being betrayed by a friend, etc. Unlike Memento and Voice, music doesn't play much of a part (nor does a lesbian relationship), but art is featured heavily - one girl draws the "suicide" scene to sort of get it out of her system or something, and gets in trouble for it. And there's a bust that provides a vital clue, though most of the mystery revolves around a couple of missing yearbooks (one thing I miss about modern horror movies - everyone just Googles things now. Something like a missing yearbook wouldn't be an issue, the school's website would have it! Technology has ruined horror in so many ways...).
And call me racist all you want, but man, can't they come up with more distinctive names? Our main characters are Ji-oh and Jae-yi (and the ghost's name is Jin-Ju) - throw some Ks and Ms in there! The actress' names are quite varied: Kang-Hee, Gyu-Ri, and Min-Jung - I'd probably have no problem with those. As I've explained before, by focusing on the bottom of the image a lot in a talky movie like this, I don't get enough of a chance to really put faces to names - if I was a producer making a horror film that was going to be distributed worldwide, I wouldn't name the four main characters Kate, Keri, and Kara, because I can see how those might get jumbled. Eventually I just started taking notes with descriptions to consult every few minutes (and of course, got some of them mixed up anyway, so those notes have cross outs and revisions).
I admit though, I was surprised not once but twice at the ending, though one wasn't really a reveal so much as a seeming setup for a sequel (which, of course, we know now is just meaningless since Memento Mori is unrelated). I was a little fuzzy on the details, of course, but there's some nice sleight of hand going on that worked pretty well, and a bonus death I didn't see coming to help make up for the horror-free middle. However, writer/director Ki-hyeong Park (who was behind the much better Root Of Evil) bungles his depictions of flashbacks a bit - there were a couple of occasions where I wasn't sure if things were manifestations of the ghost, or peeks into events that happened in the past. Gotta use black and white or some filters, son!
So while it's slightly easier to follow than the others, it's not as compelling, either. I was pleased to not be as frustrated as I was with those, but getting worked up trying to understand something is preferable to having trouble finding a reason to care. For Whispering Corridors' completists only!
What say you?