Whispering Corridors (DVD)

Starring Kim Gyu-Ri, Mi-Yeon Lee, Kyu-Ree Kim, Se-Yeon Choi

Directed by Ki-hyung Park

Released by Tartan Video

Maybe it’s the amount of J-horror exposure I’ve had to date. I figured there would be an air of “milestone status” for a film that – as Tartan puts it – started the Asian terror craze. But let’s back up a sec, didn’t Hideo Nakata’s Ringu precede Whispering Corridors by mere months in 1998? Ah, well, regardless of what came first, it doesn’t negate the fact that the Korean Corridors is a forefather and one that continues to spawn sequels (Memento Mori, Wishing Stairs, Voice Letter). Being first (or claiming to be, at least) doesn’t necessarily mean being the best in this case, however, for Corridors is a meek whimper easily drowned out by the deafening roar of its followers who certainly looked to this film for inspiration but improved upon the groundwork it laid out.

The Corridors films are said to examine the trials and tribulations of school life with a supernatural bent. This entry begins with a teacher of a private all-girls school who reveals some mysterious secret that obviously has her nerves on edge. This discovery ultimately leads to her equally peculiar death: a noose around the neck, her body left hanging from a catwalk in the school courtyard for students to find. An apparent suicide to some but we full well know it wasn’t. From here the horrors of death swiftly turn about-face to the dread of teenage cliques and tyrannical teachers as we meet the artistically-inclined Lim Ji-oh and the restrained, social outcast Youn Jae-yi – two students who develop an unexpected bond that strengthens as more school faculty fall prey to a malevolent ghost. Said specter is lashing out for reasons of revenge and loneliness; left to piece these motivations together is a new teacher absorbed in her own painful memories that may yield some clues as to the origin of the school’s supernatural presence.

Park Ki-Hyung’s film moves at a leisurely pace that if you’re not prepared for may knock you out faster than a bottle of Jack chased with some sleeping pills. That’s my nice way of saying Corridors is more drama than straight-laced horror. It peers into the classroom door window of teenage relationships and doesn’t flinch from some bitter realities. The girls here get catty, sometimes outright vicious, to their school chums. And if they ever do find a desire to unify with each other it’s a clandestine bond against their teachers who are a violent lot not afraid to give a backhanded slap to put a student in place. There are a lot of touching moments of genuine melancholy which Park not only reflects in his characters but in the lens of the ever-roaming camera taking us down barren hallways and sparse classrooms. But this emptiness gives way to nasty outbursts of violence with bleeding walls, ceilings and heads that provide welcome releases after such long bouts of mounting dramatic conflict.

All of Corridors‘ roles are adequately cast with actresses who do a fine job replicating the sundry of over-bloated egos and vulnerable, simmering emotions existing in every school. And that’s where Corridors predominantly takes us, through that hellish mental challenge called high school where many would not dare tread again. But in that fashion Joss Whedon tapped so successfully in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the paranormal is used here to uproot those underlying themes of social elimination, want of acceptance and even beauty. Corridors just takes some time getting its point across, but when it does, it’s pretty potent stuff.

Tartan opted to forgo the special edition treatment with this disc, unlike their presentation of Phone which had a decent array of extras. Corridors‘ 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is slightly weak revealing some print defects and grainy film stock. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround boasts nothing spectacular in the design department, there’s nothing wrong with it however. Major features are nil although there is a still gallery and a number of trailers for Whispering Corridors, A Tale of Two Sisters, Koma, Old Boy and A Snake in June.

2 ½ out of 5

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