With the rise of the horror genre, one of the biggest proponents of the style was the found-footage format where a cheap and easy alternative to traditional filmmaking could be found. Regardless of the critical analysis of the style, it found favor with audiences who came out in droves to support the films in the genre, producing incentive to try the format out in various countries around the world. Having already attempted with the film ‘Wol-Ha: A Very Bad Moon Rising’ the year previous, South Korea produces another film in the category, from filmmaker Jeong Beom-sik, who explores the real-life haunting of the Gonjiam asylum.
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Attempting to get more viewers, Seung-wook (Lee Seung-wook), Charlotte (Mun Ye-won), Je-yoon (Yoo Je-yoon), Ji-Hyun (Park Ji-hon), Sung-hoon (Park Sung-hoon) and Ha-joon (Wi Ha-joon), the crew of a popular horror web-show, decide to visit the Gonjiam asylum. Having heard the legends and stories of the local people who’ve visited the abandoned hospital, they realize it’s the perfect location upon which to film their latest episode and even rig some scares in the building to attract more viewers. However, as they move further into the nightmarish old building they begin to encounter much more than expected inside the place where tortured souls could really be lurking in the shadows.
This here proved to be a truly enjoyable effort. Among the most impressive elements featured is the overall atmosphere and sense of dread, established by the titular hospital. The setting by production designer Jung Sung-kyun is simply marvelous, looking exactly like the foreboding setting that’s to be expected here. The long, dark corridors leading into the distance, the blood-smeared writing along the walls and a general air of decay and abandonment permeate the building which is exactly what should be found in a location where they’re investigating. It helps to let the later ghostly happenings have even more of an impact, coming in a creepy location to start with if it’s occurring in a setting that’s creepy and makes you on-edge before it happens.
Once that ghostly activity starts, the film truly lets loose with abandon. Under the guise of the reality show shoot, this style affords the film a frantic zig-zag style of shooting that logically works out the various dips around the asylum showing the various interactions. As this generates the usual stand-byes in flickering lights, power going off and on at the most inopportune times and slamming doors when no one is near, ‘Gonjiam’ still offers up some surprises. A fantastic gag with a wig found floating in a pool of water or the freak-outs following the attempt at communicating with the forces inside for their special seance provide the first hints that something isn’t right within the asylum, and that’s greatly enhanced by the time it moves on into the final half, where it ratchets up the tension and scares considerably a slew of impressive tactics. These include arms being pulled into holes that lead to nowhere, being manipulated by forces that are clearly not visible around them, bringing up the far more intense sequences later on.
The finale, which takes place with the gang completely freaking out, blows the expectations out of the water with some terrifying encounters. Fully believing they’re cursed, the frantic race to get out is halted by the fun ploy of replaying a tactic that was setup to mark their way back to safety and turning into a chilling encounter.
The frantic action inside the asylum includes several utterly terrifying encounters with the ghosts inside the building, and offers some fantastic imagery. This includes the trick with the thermal camera capturing the presence of ghosts the naked eyes don’t and a spine-chilling sequence involving a ghost rushing up behind a victim knowing what’s going on and refusing to move out of its way. These are scary, effective and pulled off remarkably, which adds to the overall presentation of this one and offers the perfect closing note for the film.
With almost no real flaws to be had and plenty of strong, noteworthy elements present, “Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum” is a truly effective and genuinely frightening genre effort that holds up incredibly well. Seek this out if you’re a fan of Asian horror, a found-footage advocate or curious about Asian attempts at the genre while there isn’t much to dislike here beyond those that don’t appreciate subtitled foreign films in general.