Hallow-vent - Day 6: Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum

We love Halloween here at The DreamCage and we love the countdown to it even more as, every day in October, David Ames opens a window (well, writes an article) in his Hallow-vent Calendar of Asian horror films. His choice for Day 6 of Hallow-vent is Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum ...

Find the full calendar for Hallow-vent 2020 here.

It’s that time of year again: the birds are chirping, the leaves are falling, there’s a chill in the air, and there’s a pandemic raging. All of these elements come together to make a fantastic holiday season, full of candy, and popcorn, and gory, bloody, creepy films that cause existential crises and fits of catatonia. 

This year I am looking at a subgenre of horror that, although it is centralized to a continent, is very diverse in subject matter and approach: Asian horror. I LOVE Asian horror. It may be that the original Ringu played an important part in my young life, causing me to be both fascinated and horrified by this type of horror. 

While I was used to American horror movies, particularly slasher franchises like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th, I was not prepared for the sheer amount of difference between American and Asian approaches to horror. While most of what I had seen of American horror dealt with blood, gore, murder, and a substantial amount of nudity and sexual content (my 12-14-year-old self was always appreciative), Asian horror was much more subtle and disturbing. 

Maybe it was the newness and disconnection of the culture. Maybe it was the language barrier. Maybe it was the seeming focus on folklore that wasn’t present in the west’s presentation (at least from my limited experience), but from the moment I saw Ringu, I was hooked. 

This year I wanted to approach Asian horror that was not as famous as those I had seen previously and so I chose movies that I had never seen, or even heard of for the most part. There is only one film on the list that I was familiar with beforehand, and I hadn’t watched that since high school. 

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the strange mix of subtlety, disturbing imagery, and slow-burn that is this year’s Hallow-vent calendar.

The found-footage horror movie has been done and redone, almost ad nauseum, since The Blair Witch Project changed the game in 1999. While this genre has its strengths in films like the original Paranormal Activity, REC, and even As Above, So Below, there are far more in this genre that are horrendous, unoriginal cash-grabs. Knowing this, I was at first a little apprehensive about today’s film, but I was worried for no reason. Today, we look at Jung Bum-shik’s South Korean frightfest Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum.

This film follows is based on the real-life, supposedly haunted Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital, considered one of the most haunted locations in all of South Korea. The basis for the film is similar to the old American television show, FEAR, where contestants strap on dual-sided cameras which view both the person and what they see. This show, in the film, is called Horror Time, and these contestants are exploring the eponymous hospital in search of ghosts.

The hospital is known for the many spirits that haunt the locations. It is said that these are the spirits of the patients who were murdered here, as well as the director of the facility, who went missing after a mass of suicides plagued the patients. Along with this history, there is a door that no one has been able to open, Door 402, and these hotspots will be the focus of the Horror Time investigation.

The hospital will be explored by Ji-Hyun, Charlotte, Seung-Wook, Ah-Yeon, Sung-Hoon, and Je-Yoon, and guided/given orders by the “Captain” of the investigative show, Ha-Joon. As they make their way to the hospital, we are given a look into multiple teambuilding activities, a way that Ha-Joon finds to connect the contestants, and make the drama that much more immersive. Their investigation will be streamed live online, in hopes of achieving a large viewership, and garnering plenty of sponsorship money.

As the investigation begins, the explorers immediately begin to experience small elements of paranormal activity, slamming doors, sounds, strange feelings, but nothing too crazy. It isn’t until Ah-Yeon performs a ritual in hopes of conjuring spirits that the team begins to truly experience what the hospital has to offer. As the night goes on, and Ha-Joon’s true nature becomes apparent, the contestants inside the hospital are tortured and hounded by spirits, and the seriousness of their situation eventually catches up to all involved.

I don’t want to say too much more, but DAMN was this film great. I enjoyed basically every aspect of the movie. It was full of subversive imagery and scenes that made you feel flat-out uncomfortable. Sure, some of the scares and scenes were obvious, but that comes with the territory of a found-footage film. Even those predictable elements were done masterfully, and when the writers and director added in a strange time-warp element to the story, everything comes together.

If you are a fan of Asian horror, of found-footage films, or of the paranormal in general, this is a must watch. Gaining the status of the second-highest grossing horror film in the history of South Korea is well-deserved. This film needs to be seen by anyone who calls themselves a fan of Asian horror.

Follow David on Twitter @TheDavidMAmes

Image - IMDb
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