GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM (2018)
Director: Jung Bum-shik
Run time: 1h 34m
Latecomer to the ‘found footage’ genre finds fresh ways to get its scares with an accompanying commentary on the YouTube generation
You could be forgiven for an immediate eye-roll at the prospect of another ‘found footage’ horror film, over 20 years since the sub-genre started its now well-storied contribution to horror.
For a new film to work, there must be enough originality, enough fresh ground to provide an addition to the genre, rather than another copy. On this, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum surprising succeeds.
Firstly, it is not actually a ‘found footage’ film in the literal sense of the notion. This is more a ‘live-streamed’ version of a horror, playing into the social media and streaming obsessed nature of Korea’s young people. A horror for a generation where YouTube stars are some of the world’s most famous celebrities.
It also transcends the ghost story where the physical threat often remains hidden. We very much meet the looming demons of Gonjiam and lay witness to their violent potential.
After two teenagers disappear within the long-abandoned Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital, Ha-Joon (Wi Ha-joon), the owner of YouTube channel “Horror Times”, decides to explore the building.
For this mission, he assembles a group of six, three girls: Ah-Yeon (Oh Ah-yeon), Charlotte (Moon Ye-won), and Ji-Hyun (Park Ji-hyun), and three boys: Sung-Hoon (Park Sung-hoon), Seung-Wook (Lee Seung-wook), and Je-Yoon (Yoo Je-yoon).
The plan is to visit the building and live-stream the whole experience to the masses. A target of one million streams is set and the Won signs are flickering in their eyes at this prospect. However, and it is no spoiler to state this, it turns out the ghost myths surrounding Gonjiam might just have a measure of truth.
While the film opens on footage of the two previous missing teenagers, it then takes its time to build tension as the group prepares for its Gonjiam visit and fills the early stages of its live stream by picking up weird dolls and pointing at messages on the wall. However, the pay-off is worth it for a chaotic and genuinely scary final act.
There are a selection of superb jump scares. Be prepared to leap out of your skin at the sight of a ping-pong ball more than you could have ever imagined. These jumps scares then ensure more tension in scenes where the action if more drawn-out. You are begging for the relief of the jumps, but the scene keeps building.
Due to the nature of the set-up, most of the footage is caught on camera phones and GoPros, but this encourages some creative filmmaking. For example, when choosing who will enter the uber-haunted Room 401, a camera is attached to a dartboard, spun and it stops to frame the unlucky soul chosen for the challenge.
South Korea is a deeply wired society. There are even boot camps to cure social media obsessed youth of their online additions. It is this modern premise which drives the film’s narrative forward, resulting in more scares than streams.
WATCH THE TRAILER: