Released in 1998 at the very beginning of the J-horror scene, Park ki-hyeong’s celebrated Korean horror effort “Whispering Corridors” is one of the finest efforts from that time period and was a massive hit, spawning a franchise with four loose follow-ups. Now, director Awi Suryadi offers a remake of that classic, transplanted to Indonesia and keeping the potent themes of bullying intact alongside the penchant for classy genre scares with its premiere in local theaters earlier in the year.
Arriving at a new high school, student Alex (Angga Yunanda) immediately falls into the crosshairs of older students Fahri (Teuku Ryzki), Andre (Arya Vasco) and Erika (Naomi Paulinda) for being a younger classmate. As the situation grows worse and their attacks continue without any kind of supervisor interference, he finds solace in Maggie (Amanda Rawles), a fellow victim of their bullying and new student like him. As the two start to help each other get through school, they notice a series of ghostly accidents happening to the students around them and realize the school legend about it being haunted by the ghosts of bullied students might be true.
“Sunyi” turned out to be an effective remake. Part of the film’s effectiveness is director Suryadi’s rather striking work for the ghost haunting scenes. The opening attack in the school’s swimming pool gets this off to a nice start, while a seance scene that remarkably doesn’t go awry, feels incredibly tense and eerie. That the majority of the scenes that follow tend to focus on longer, more drawn-out suspense helps greatly, as these are given life by director of photography Adrian Sugiono. These scenes are given a touch of class as a result, focusing on the eeriness that something’s not right with the situation that is matched incredibly well with the brutality of the kill scenes. The ghosts’ terrifying sudden appearances at the end of these well-done and chilling setups create a great combination between these elements.
“Sunyi” also manages to bring awareness to the topical themes of bullying. That we’re introduced to this immediately with the arrival at the new school and Fahri, Andre and Erika’s treatment of not just him but others in his class provides real depth to the situation on Suryadi’s part. Once the group sees that Alex’s is the perfect target because of his weakness, this allows them to start forcing crueler treatment on him by going through the seance or the embarrassment faced with trying to make an impression on Maggie. Once the ghosts begin to get involved and their torment eases off in favor of Alex and Maggie looking into the ghosts’ history, the sweet bond they share through their shared experiences gives those bullying scenes a real meaning. Showing how much better it is to deal with the situation when there’s someone else to share with and grow stronger makes for a nice counterpoint to the bullying. Despite Andre’s attempts to continue bullying them, that they stand together gives them the strength to overcome and solve the mystery, with the ghosts helping to finish it off, giving this one a lot to like overall.
Among the problems here is writers Agasyah Karim, Khalid Kashogi and Suryadi’s storyline that revolves around tired cliches and unsurprising setups. Transplanting wholesale the original story of the bullied newcomer who develops a burgeoning friendship with a fellow student to solve a ghostly murder spree occurring around them, comes off as wholly unoriginal and not that scary. Despite the care given to the suspense and haunting scenes, the storyline is a pale imitation of countless others that are based on the same concepts of the ghosts coming back to seek revenge on their deaths with the new bullies. Likewise, the bullying here is quite odd in that the behavior is allowed or even outright encouraged by the administration without any attempt to stop it. That the social system in place encourages name-calling and mistreatment on the younger students simply through tradition sets a distressing formula that tries to be rectified by the finale. However, that comes off as preachy and way too little too late to course-correct, ending this on a weak note.
With a lot of great technical qualities in the most important sections with the ghost hauntings and plenty to say about bullying, “Sunyi” manages to get a lot to like while still feeling somewhat cliched and unoriginal. Fans of Asian horror or viewers looking for quality work in these areas should give this a shot while those that don’t enjoy the film’s preachy atmosphere or like the genre at all should heed caution.