Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum film review – creepy ‘live-streamed’ horror experience from South Korea
Forget The Blair Witch Project, director Jeong Beom-sik’s take on the ‘found footage’ genre elevates horror to a whole new level, as the audience follows a live-streamed adventure into a psychiatric hospital that goes horribly wrong
The “found footage” gimmick has thrived in the horror genre, where the narrative is pieced together through recovered fragments of sound and image. But the emergence of FaceTime, Periscope and virtual reality has forced the genre away from early milestones like Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project, into live-streamed horror experiences, which audiences witness as they happen to the characters.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum follows a group of volunteers on the Korean web series Horror Stories, as they venture into a notorious psychiatric hospital, dubbed one of “the seven freakiest places on Earth”. Shut down in the 1970s, following an alleged mass suicide of its patients, the asylum is rumoured to have housed political prisoners as well as the mentally ill, who were tortured and tested on by the director, who has since disappeared.
Each team member is fitted with a camera rig that films both them and their point of view, while team captain Ha-joon (Wi Ha-joon) guides them remotely through the abandoned corridors from a tent in the woods outside. What the volunteers don’t know is that, in an effort to boost online views, Ha-joon and his colleagues are leading them into a hoax, but the scares soon veer off script, suggesting that legitimate supernatural forces are at work.
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Directed by Jeong Beom-sik, Gonjiam is almost completely devoid of violence or gore, earning its chills from impressively creepy locations and convincing performances of a largely unknown cast. The actors use their own names, while their interplay feels genuine and natural. Between the screams there is even time to introduce a potential romance, before the secrets behind door 402 consume them all.
While Gonjiam may offer few surprises for horror aficionados, Jeong creates plenty of atmosphere and genuine scares along the way, which have helped propel the film to the top of the South Korean box office. Hong Kong’s appetite for ghost stories and all things supernatural should see the film received here with equal enthusiasm.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum opens on April 19
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