Starring Seung-Wook Lee, Ye-Won Mun, Ji-Hyun Park, Sung-Hoon Park, Ha-Joon Wi
Written by Beom-sik Jeong, Sang-min Park
Directed by Beom-sik Jeong
Found footage films are some of the most contested and criticized titles within horror, especially in the past few years. While the explosion of titles that began with Paranormal Activity certainly contained several gems, there were just as many, if not more, titles that failed to capture the magic and essence of what makes that subgenre so effective. However, those who love that style of film can now safely add South Korea’s Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum to the list of movies that do it right.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum follows YouTuber Ha-Joon (Wi) and his crew of paranormal investigators as they recruit a few people to join them as they break into Gonjiam, dubbed one of the freakiest and most haunted places on Earth. Livestreaming their investigation, Ha-Joon commands the team from a nearby tent as the crew wanders through the four floors of the asylum, his team setting up staged events that will trick and terrify their guests. As they venture deeper into the halls, actual supernatural events occur and the team realize that not just their sanity is at risk.
Never breaking from its found footage mechanic, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum rather embraces it with utmost glee. The team openly show off the multitude of cameras that they will be using and how they will be applied for maximum viewing effect. Cameras are placed in front of faces, the corners of rooms, and even a drone makes a limited appearance.
While the film may start in an almost eye-rolling, cringe-inducing manner, if you can make it past the first 15 minutes then you’re in for a truly unsettling and deeply frightening experience. The halls of Gonjiam are brilliantly lit and shot so as to make the shadows as dark and deep as possible and the illuminated portions dingy, filthy, and full of potential scares. Every inch of the screen feels like it could contain a malevolent spirit, so the eye is constantly wandering, trying, and failing, to pierce the darkness.
Much like 2011’s Grave Encounters, the crew roaming the halls of Gonjiam begin experiencing strange, almost hallucinatory events that call into question what is real and what is staged. Director Beom-sik Jeong knows how to draw out the scares and makes delightful use of timing, playing with scares that come instantly and those that are meant to linger for much longer than a single jump. That there is no clear indication on what type of scare is coming next only serves to add to the tension, making for a viewing experience that left me tense and nearly covering my eyes and ears for the vast majority of its runtime.
My only gripe with Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum was the almost tacked on ending, which wrapped up the story of one of the investigators. However, the scene felt like an afterthought, as though the writers suddenly remembered that there was this character that hadn’t yet gotten a resolution. However, it was still dealt with in an effectively spooky manner.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is the real deal. Deeply unsettling and unrelentingly scary, it is a film that must be seen.