Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
The 335th review!
The last days of October are always the hardest part of this venture I never map out the movies I want to watch, I just know a few I want to hit. Most nights I spent a lot of time scrolling through my streaming services hoping to find something good and this year has been more difficult than years past. I was looking for something scary before I went to bed and I kept coming back to...
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)
A group of teenagers break into an asylum that was featured in a CNN article about the most haunted places on Earth. The teens are shooting the thing on their phone so it's shot vertically (grumble grumble) and they're trying to break into Room 402, the most haunted of all the rooms, when they're attacked by something that looks like a ghost before the video ends.
We fast forward a bit and the owner of the Youtube channel "Horror Times" gets a crew together to do a live broadcast of them investigating themselves. Thankfully the vertical bars are gone. Their goal is to get 1,000,000 streamers so they can sell ads worth $500k-money. I only have 24 subscribers and I'm lucky to get double digits on my videos, so I'm going to have to take his word for it. But he tells them the plan is to go through each floor, see the haunted sites and the climax will be them opening the door to Room 402.
I'll get my disclaimers out of the way now that the synopsis is over; the movie is subtitled because it's a Korean film and it's found footage. The subtitles aren't usually a problem with me, but I think these characters talked faster than normal, especially while they were scared, so if your eyes are wandering to see more of the set piece, you could get left behind. I think I'm over found footage because the way this was shot was really jarring. A lot of it was filmed with cameras attached to people's faces so most of what you're seeing are reaction shots. You mainly get their terrified expressions and you wish you could see what they're seeing, but then the camera flails around, or it switches to a different camera and all you're seeing is darkness. It's like watching a less-disappointing "Battle of Winterfell" because it's so dark.
If you've gotten this far and thought This sounds like Grave Encounters, then you would be correct. It even has the host trying to set up the scene beforehand to make things seem scarier. While Grave is done to scare the audience that will be watching later, the host of "Horror Times" is doing it to scare the people going through.
Outside of the inherent problems with a found footage movie, there's nothing wrong with the film. I enjoyed the characters and rooted for them despite knowing they were doomed the second they stepped foot in the asylum. The host they kept referring to as "Captain" was the exception. He makes a real quick turn into a Captain Ahab character that's a little head scratching. Other than that they're all good and their screams and expressions of terror are all very believable.
While I enjoyed Grave Encounters more and thought it was scarier, this one has its fair share of frights. It starts off small, a bump here, a sound there but once things start happening, they don't slow down. Once the ghosts have had enough they don't give their victims a chance to breathe. These people are trapped and the ghosts are playing with them, like a cat toys with their food. Later in the movie you realize just how powerful this place is with what the ghosts are able to do. It messes with reality for two people, making them run around like rats in a maze, not realizing they haven't even left the cage. It also leads to probably the scariest moment in the movie, when one of the girls becomes... something else.
It also has some subtle scares as well that I don't want to get into because I think it's pretty clever and spooky and it's better to see for yourself. It's a small thing and the movie doesn't draw much attention to it once its passed, but it should have served as a huge "oh shit" moment for "Captain," but he lets his greed get in the way.
Some fun background on this movie, Gonjiam actually exists and it did make an appearance in a CNN Travel article called "The seven freakiest places on the planet." They couldn't get permission to shoot there, so they did the inside shots at a school in Busan designed to look like the place. Also, the owner of the asylum sued the filmmakers to prevent it from being shown, accusing the movie of hurting his chances of selling the building. A Seoul court ruled in favor of the filmmakers and it was allowed to proceed.
It's a solid movie with some really good scares, but it seemed too familiar. I'm trying not to compare it to Grave Encounters, but it's hard because they're really similar movies and the other really got to me a lot more. One aspect I liked of this one is it didn't bother trying to answer the question "Who would edit these people's deaths into a feature-length movie?" It just skips the whole thing and plops you into the story. I actually like that more to be honest. So many start off with some dude in a suit explaining to you, the viewer, that they're on a quest for answers to find out what happened to these people, and it's always hokey. The ONLY time a found footage edit was explained well was The Last Broadcast.
6.5 Dr. Chainsaws!
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
The cast and crew of a horror web series travels to an abandoned asylum for a live broadcast.
Directors: Jung Bum-Shik
Starring: Seung-Wook, Oh Ah-Yeon, Park Ji-Hyun