Impressions: Gonjiam Haunted Asylum

Gonjiam is a Korean found footage film that follows a group as they decide to film in a haunted asylum. The setting for the film was actually on CNN’s list of creepiest places, something the movie likes to refer back to several times. In the film, the rumors are that the asylum was never meant to treat the patients but rather torture them. Also that everybody that enters the hospital either dies, commits suicide, or goes into a coma.

The premise of the film is nothing overly unique. A YouTube group dedicated to horror say that they will go into the hospital to investigate and try to enter the cursed room 402. Along with them, they bring 4 random individuals. As they explore the hospital, the scares happen quickly and regularly leading the audience to find out that the YouTuber’s are actually faking everything to ensure the others react and that they get more views. The problem is while the plan was for fake scares things start going wrong.

I was a bit nervous about the idea of the fake scares when I started watching this movie. I wondered if they would actually desensitize me before the real ones hit, or if the film would try to go in a “what’s real and what’s not” direction. In the case of the latter, it’s not that this can never work, only that it’s a fine line and I often find that it doesn’t. In the case of the former, it was actually no big deal. The fake scares are relatively obvious, and while they might add to the tension, it’s not hard to figure them out early on. It also helps that a few of the real scares start to blend in fairly early on, even if the people that know about the set up don’t notice it.

As far as the movie overall it’s hard to come up with well-formulated thoughts on it. As I mentioned the plot itself is not anything that mind-blowing. There is little detail given on the hospital itself which is somewhat disappointing, so for the most part, you have the plot structure of people goofing around in a scary place then people losing their minds in the same place. It’s not a bad plot, it’s just not a well thought out one. Everything serves merely to get us from one scare to the next. There is a bit of mystery in what exactly is happening in the hospital, but the pieces can only be put together so much. I feel like the movie is meant to leave you with questions, and I don’t mind this choice, just to say that I won’t be reflecting on the plot for years to come.

The characters themselves are pretty well developed with most of them being likable, which I find helps to build tension when things go wrong; in fact other than one stand out it was pretty sad to watch the characters be picked off. I think that is needed in a movie like this. Slashers can get away with characters that you don’t care about because it’s really all about the kills. Films that rely on tension and suspense need you actually to care about the outcome.

The movie is all about the scares, and when they come, they are pretty effective. For the most part, every one of them landed for me, and I was that lovely blend of uncomfortable and terrified by the end of the movie. A few moments didn’t land for me personally, but that is to be expected. It is rare for a horror movie to hit 100% of the time with 100% of the audience. The film relies on what you would expect from paranormal horror, with inhumane sounds, movement, and moments where you know something is coming you just can’t be sure when. This either works for you or it doesn’t. It’s a good blend of suspense with follow up jump scares.

It is well served by both the lighting and sound design. One of the creepiest moments in the entire movie for me is based purely on sound, and it more than anything else stuck with me long after finishing the film. The film is dark, which is needed, they are after all exploring an abandoned building late at night. Like most found footage movies the use of cameras cutting out and lighting disappearing is present here, and it’s used well.

In the end, there is not much to say about this movie in comparison to others in the same vein. There is nothing I can point to to say “this makes it different from the others,” but that’s not entirely a bad thing. It is still effective at being scary, and not everything has to reinvent the wheel. It’s a good paranormal, found footage, horror film. Well acted, well directed, excellent sound design. It might not take the cake on a unique plot but it scared me, and in the end, that’s what we want from a horror film isn’t it? I think there might have been ways to take this same concept other directions, but it might have gotten so focused on that that it failed to deliver what it needed to the most; honestly, that’s impossible to say.

So I would recommend it to anybody that likes this kind of film, just with the warning that it’s unlikely going to be your all-time favorite. It is entertaining and worth at least one viewing, if not more. I am also curious about the other films by this director now and hope to watch more from him in the future.

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