GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM (2018)
Directed by Beom-sik Jeong
Written by Beom-sik Jeong, Sang-min Park
Starring Seung-Wook Lee, Ye-Won Mun, Ji-Hyun Park, Sung-Hoon Park, Ha-Joon Wi
GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM starts out pretty lamely, with a group of goofy paranormal experts gathering to investigate one of the most haunted sites in the world. But as it went on, I couldn’t help but get caught up with all of the horror as the terrors of the asylum, mixed with the found footage template, and drenched in J-horror tropes worked in chilling me through and through. Let’s see how this one holds up to my found footage questionnaire.
What’s it all about
Five paranormal investigators are sent into a haunted asylum while the producer shouts instructions to them from a tent outside. Some of the investigators know that things have been planted and planned to get a ton of hits on their online channel, but when things start going off script and real paranormal things begin to occur, the producer refuses to let the group out and wants to continue filming.
Are the actors successfully acting like they aren’t acting?
For the most part, I was pretty impressed by the acting all through GONJIAM. This is a South Korean film and the lines are spoken in Korean, so there might be a bit of a gap in my judgment in terms of line delivery. But for the most part, the actors seemed scared in the right places and never felt as if they were overacting. More than a few times in this film, I laughed at the antics of the paranormal investigators as they intentionally scared some of their crew who weren’t in on the joke. And when things get real, the acting was never a distraction.
Does the footage feel authentic and untouched by a production team; meaning that is it free of produced musical additions by an invisible orchestra or multiple edits by an omnipotent editor?
While there might be a bit of production added here and there and the camera bops from a POV shot in one actor’s face after another, this is justified by the presence of an actual producer of the show in a tent just outside of the asylum, broadcasting the whole experience live on the internet. This is excuse enough to make me look past the multiple edits between cameras. While sound effects are added in and some characters seem to be mic-ed when they shouldn’t be, there is nothing by way of sound design that distracts from the authenticity.
Why don’t they just drop the camera and just get the hell out of there?
Well, this is what the group is there to do, so dropping the camera and running is not really an option. The characters do get mighty scared halfway through and threaten to revolt and leave, but the producer manages to convince them to stay and keep rolling with some blackmail and some incentive. This takes the crew into the macabre last half hour of this film which is the most effective.
Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
The way the cameras are set up, there are all sorts of up-nose POV shots. It unfortunately is all part of the paranormal game, seen in tons of paranormal investigation shows. I never really understood this. Sure, it’s interesting to watch the reactions of those investigating, but wouldn’t a shot of what they are reacting to be more valid truth to their cause? I always yell at these shows for never having a camera that follows the eyeline of the investigators. There might be one drag away later in the film, but things get so intense, it didn’t feel as lame as in previous entries in this subgenre.
Does anything actually happen? Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
What impressed me is that, despite a long lead in, the film really does pay off by the end. The entire last half hour, where the investigators are wandering aimlessly through the asylum and encountering all sorts of ghosts, ghouls, and monsters, is downright bone-rattling. This is one of the few instances where the long lean in was worth every second for the scares you get in the last half.
Does the film add anything to the subgenre and, ultimately, is it worth watching?
While some are tired of this subgenre of horror, I feel there still is room for some good ones. GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM is such a film. The goofy cast are likable, though there might be too many of them to follow. The scares are potent and really do work in the latter half. If you’re willing to sit through the first half, establishing the camera setups, the mechanations of the show, and the gettin’ to know the cast portion, I think you’ll be surprised at the use of J-horror tropes in this found footage format. I dug it and I think found footage fans will too.