Seen in Jeonju

Haunted House (2010)

30th October 2010

haunted houseI looked up from work the other day and noticed that October was ending. That means that it must be Halloween.  Now, I had not celebrated in more than two decades.  It is not an holiday here, even a minor one though I am led to believe that some academies in Seoul have their kids dress up in costumes or carve pumpkins with them, it is not done here.  That’s fine with me. The only thing I really used to like about Halloween was the fact that there would be a wide selection of horror movies on television at night. Checking with in with Hana-TV, my internet tv provider, I saw that that among the new movies listed for this week was the summer horror film Haunted House. I had wanted to see this when it had opened, but it wasn’t in theaters long enough for me to catch then. I knew of course that the film was made in the shaky handicam style that became somewhat popular after The Blair Witch Project, a movie which scared the beejeezus out of me. I loved it. I also liked Cloverfield and the Spanish zombie/demon film REC. I was far less thrilled Paranormal Activity, the sequel of which is doing quite well in theaters even as I write this… I wonder if I should give it a chance.  I like the feeling that the hand camera effect gives, like events are really happening and you are filming them yourself. I was anxious to see how this Korean contribution would pan out.

The story setup is simple enough. A camera crew, making a television show about paranormal investigators, decide to spend the night in a building rumored to be haunted due to a number of disappearances, unexplained deaths and murders. Of course, this setup is familiar to anyone who has seen shows like The Ghost Hunters. I have watched that program a handful of times when I have been in the USA and I maintain a healthy skepticism about it. What they do is enter supposedly haunted buildings in search of the paranormal, but what they show and say is so easy to fabricate. Somebody exclaiming “I feel an icy hand!” or “I sense pure evil in this room!”should hold as much validity as my writing “There’s a werewolf outside my house!” on the internet. In other words, none. This is something that director Lee Cheol-ha gets right in Haunted House.

The film crew in Lee’s movie know perfectly well that they are going to have fake and stage certain things in order to make their show more interesting. The coach their trio of ‘professional’ paranormal investigators on walking in and out of rooms. Kudos to actors Shin Kyeong-seon and Yoon Yi-na who play the ghost hunters Wan-soo and Mi-jin respectively. Shin does an excellent job in bringing an earnest sincerity to Wan-soo, the leader of the trio–none of whom have actually encountered a ghost. Mi-jin is played with a natural awkwardness and a hint of, for lack of a better word, foolishness. Not slapstick style; she just does not seem very bright and it is painful to watch the producer and director of the film crew trying to coax an expression from her as she searches through the building.

As the night gets later, creepy things begin to happen..a mirror breaks, a toy moves across the floor… but no concrete sign of a ghost for the most part. Actually, the flashes of the ghost face that appear rarely on the camera should have been left on the cutting room floor. The deep shadows and the unknown are far more frightening and effective. Though had they been cut, I suspect there would have been a portion of the audience who would have been bored. The story steadily builds a heavy atmosphere and expectation that something is going to happen without, for the most part, showing the phantom.

Even when all hell starts to break loose somewhere around the 80 minute mark, we do not see much of the ghost. That is because the ghost is handled as a ‘real’ spirit. If you are familiar with Korean shamans or have seen the Korean cable tv show The Exorcist, then you know what this means— Possessions. Shamans have an associated spirit whom they allow to enter their bodies when they need to commune with the dead, perform rites or predict fortunes. In The Exorcist, a team of ‘professional’  paranormal investigators travel to homes where the families claim a member has been possessed by a ghost. As with the Ghost Hunters, I thouroughly dislike this show. It is either faked, the family members are lying or the victim is mentally disturbed and in need of real help. Even though we see no long-haired horror crawling through the ruins of the building, what happens in the last few minutes of the movie is terrifying.

The director made some good choices. I will long remember the sound recording specialist and what she does. And a tip of the hat to a scene in Paranormal Activities is actually done better in Haunted House. But Lee also makes a mistake. We spend a lot of time learning about the characters through their actions and interactions, but all of that goes out the window in the ensuing panic when the haunting truely begins. I expected more than simply running from Wan-soo and the producer.

Haunted House is a fun movie. No deep thoughts required or hidden meanings to find. In this sense, it is the perfect Halloween film.

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