I really had no idea what to expect going into this movie. Here is a full list of everything I knew about the movie:
- South Korean ghost movie
2. Really scary
3. Really good
4. Two-and-a-half hours long
Point #4 kept me from watching it for a while. I’m all in favor of a good movie regardless of length, but it’s not always easy to carve out two-and-a-half hours to sit down and watch a movie. I wish I was one of those people who could break up a movie into several viewings, but that doesn’t really work for me.
I had a day a couple weeks ago where I stayed home from work to battle the flu. Having the house to myself and not wanting to leave the couch, I figured there would be no better time to watch this. Plus, I figured the creeping deliriousness of my brain would help to heighten the supernatural aspects of the movie.
And so, slightly sweating yet huddled under a heavy blanket, I hit play.
First things first: yes, technically this is a ghost movie, but it’s not a ghost movie in the way I normally think of them. In this movie, a ghost takes the form of an old Japanese man and he persuades the villagers to kill their family in horrible ways. In that way, it plays out as a possession movie, with a ghost/demon in the center of it all.
Of course, it’s not nearly that simple. Is the Japanese man really causing all of the murders, or does the mysterious woman in the white dress have something to do with it? And what of the suspiciously hip-looking shaman? To put it more succinctly, who is the angel and who is the demon?
We follow Jong-goo, a policeman in a tiny village in South Korea. Very early in the movie he is called to the scene of a grisly murder and notices that the murderer has an odd rash on his neck. He begins to notice this same thing at every murder scene. It’s when he sees the rash on his young daughter – Hoy-jin – that he really begins to worry.
And then there are the nightmares. Early in the movie, we hear the story of a hunter encountering a man in the woods with red eyes, hunched over a deer and devouring it raw. Jong-goo begins dreaming of the creature, even seeing him in a kind of waking nightmare at one point. As Hoy-jin’s behavior becomes more erratic, Jong-goo becomes more frantic in his search to destroy the evil that is infecting his daughter.
Let’s get this out of the way: Jong-goo is a terrible policeman. Just awful. Even before Hoy-jin starts showing evidence of the murder rash, he shows to be unreliable at best. He routinely shows up late. He is not aware of his surroundings. He believes every rumor presented to him and changes his mind at the drop of a hat, merely because he hears new information that may-or-may-not be credible. He seems incapable of processing information and making a decision based on everything he knows up until that point. He’s like a dog chasing a ball; he’ll just follow whatever the newest piece of information is and ignore everything else. Not exactly who you want to be investigating a series of ghost murders.
As a father myself, I understand that decision-making can become cloudy when it comes to your child being in danger, so perhaps his actions later in the movie can’t be judged as harshly. However, since we had already seen his extremely flawed thought process on full display before his daughter contracts the murder rash, I feel like his daughter being under duress didn’t make his decision-making any worse. He was terrible throughout the entire movie; his daughter contracting the rash only made him more violent.
I loved the setting of this movie. Some of the imagery was really impressive. However, it was extremely slow-paced and the actions of Jong-goo only served to frustrate me at every turn. Perhaps I could look past some of that in a shorter movie, but the long run time really killed this movie for me. I’m fine with a long movie if there is a point to it, but this movie had entirely too many moments that dragged, and I don’t feel that the payoff at the end was worth what it took to get there.
I also didn’t love everything about the ending. There were a few different things going on, and, while I liked how one of them wrapped up, the other involved Jong-goo and his notoriously terrible decision-making. I should have been invested in his story and really torn by the decision he was being forced to make. Instead, I had already lost all faith in him and was just frustrated by the entire situation.
There were creepy moments, but it wasn’t really scary. It wasn’t unnerving. It wasn’t much of anything but slow and marred by a protagonist incapable of ever making a correct decision.
I know a lot of people loved this, but it just wasn’t for me. Then again, “slow moving possession film,” isn’t exactly my subgenre of choice. If you like possession films, give it a go and tell me why I was wrong.