Epitaph (2008)

Epitaph review (click to see it bigger)Reviewed by Paul McCannibal

Starring Jin Ku, Kim Bo-kyeong, Kim Tae-woo

Directed by Jeong Beom-sik & Jeong Sik

Fans of ghost stories have a new Korean addition to the genre with
Epitaph. Is it well made? Yes, technically. Narratively, it’s got a few stories intermingling within the context of a med-school/morgue scenario, leading to all kinds of morbid fun involving corpses arriving and their stories unfolding in tangent-style segment films.

The main problem is that it’s a very confusing amalgamation of the various stories. It’s difficult to tell if the confusion came out of how the actual script was constructed and followed or how the content was edited. It’s definitely not a technical or executional fault, because this movie looks and sounds great.

As for those confusing stories – there are two very clear, very dark chapters with loosely related fringe characters that work reasonably well as what could be called Korean chapters in “Tales from the Darkside”. One is about a tragic auto accident and the surviving little girl brought to the morgue. The other is about a student at the med-school/morgue who is heartbroken by the death of their partner through a horrific botched coronary examination. And there’s a serial killer on the loose too, and a few scenes in a med class that act as a way to break up the various stories while interconnecting them by revisiting the same place and people. Well, with a different person teaching the class each time.

Epitaph reviewYes, it must be a little confusing to read this description; I’m not trying to be evasive or hide spoilers, I’m just telling you what I saw. This is exactly the problem I had with the film. It felt like it was trying to follow a Hitchcockian model where attention to details would lead to a big “wow” revelation of some kind at the end, but I didn’t get what it was, and no one I saw it with understood fully how things linked up at the end. This frustration left me cold in my impression of the movie.

What the film does have going for it is a really slick visual style. There are occasional eerie flourishes that work well, too; I’d say I heard the most ominous vocal style of female weeping of any horror/ghost story film thus far in my life in this movie, but it’s only a small moment (small moments tend to stick with me as a viewer, particularly in the audio sense). And there are some good atmospheric scenes that are graphically striking and interestingly arranged – one features a series of sliding doors opening up as the camera creeps through, revealing a new variation on a similar character theme each time, a bit like a Korean-tinged play on the opening credits of The Ninth Gate. The music overall was pretty good, although it tripped up considerably (to much laughter from the audience) by using the oldest one in the book repeatedly, that Bernard Herrman violin sting from the Psycho shower sequence. You can’t use that and call it an homage anymore, I’m sorry. You’re just reminding your viewers of a scene that is incomparably superior, which shows extreme naivety on the part of whoever would put that kind of musical sting in there.

I must stress, this is not a badly made feature film. But overall, I just didn’t feel satisfied at the end. It was a decent effort and this directorial team have their technical chops down without question. I’ll be interested enough or to see what they do next, but Epitaph gets a shrug from this viewer. Not that bad, but that not great either.


2 1/2 out of 5

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