We’ve all seen it before. The Blair Witch Project started the trend of reality docu-fiction and faux found footage, but the genre has evolved over time. The aforementioned was a box office hit, but only slightly successful as a piece of horror cinema. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, the brainchild of Jeong Beom-Sik has been scaring audiences in Korea, but is much more successful than its predecessor as a film overall.
Six strangers are gathered to investigate paranormal activity in a haunted asylum. Part hoax, the mastermind of a horror-themed Youtube channel throws in pre-planned scares to spook the crap out of his amateur investigation team. The opportunist wants 1 million Youtube views and isn’t above fictionalizing the findings. But soon, objects start to move on their own, and the creep-factor outcreeps even the creep in charge.
Shot using an array of selfie cams, most of the sequences appear distorted, through the investigators’ lens, or alternately through the camera itself’s view of the actors’ faces (often up-nostril). Tense, tight camera work, and this intimate view of people’s expressions is what makes things more believably frightening. Through the majority of the film, we don’t see any paranormal apparitions, but rely only on the characters’ reactions for shock value.
A possessed character that merely stands there susurrating nonsense is probably the most chilling and skin-crawling moment on offer. Subtlety can do a lot for a well-built horror movie. And now the bad news. The cop out. Like in Hollywoodian horror flicks Insidious and The Conjuring we are then shown the face of terror, quite literally. In some way, this detracts from the mode of operation of the rest of the film. Being shown what lurks in the corners somewhat kills the buzz of the unknown dread we feel throughout. Overall, the payoff is still enjoyable, if somewhat conventional.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum – Thursday, August 2nd 7:45 PM – Hall Theatre