M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! I have also compiled a list of horror films that worth noting to tack on to my Best of Countdown. Some of these films just barely missed the main Best of list and some are just films released through the year I thought stood out in one way or another. Do not forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. And please chime in down in the comments and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or you can counter with your own darn list! Enjoy this Best of Horror Extra!
Released on June 11, 2020. Streaming exclusively on SHUDDER!
WARNING: DO NOT PLAY (2019)
Directed by Kim Jin-won
Written by Kim Jin-won
Starring Narendra Singh Dhami, Ye-ji Seo, Seon-kyu Jin, Bo-ra Kim, Cha Yub, Jae-Young Joe, Yoon-ho Ji, Mi-kyung Kim, Kim Jae-In, Yoon Jeong-ro, Tae-boo Nam, So-Yi Shin
Anyone who may have crossed paths with Kim Jin-won’s THE BUTCHER knows that the South Korean filmmaker can deliver some harrowing and disturbing cinema. There are moments from that film that I can’t unsee and it’s a film I told myself I wouldn’t watch ever again because it was so disturbing. Surprisingly, WARNING: DO NOT PLAY is only Kim’s second film. This time, he has made something more for the masses and while it is wonderfully done, it also felt like it is venturing into territory that was well tread upon in the 90’s and 00’s during the J-horror craze that paired ghosts with all forms of technology. At least, that’s what I initially thought going into WARNING: DO NOT PLAY.
A young director Mi-Jung (Ye-ji Seo) is in a pinch and has to come up with an idea for a new film asap lest her and her business partner lose their contract with their production company. It is in this moment of desperation that she hears about a lost student film made a decade ago that is said to be filmed by a ghost named Soon-Mi. After finding the lost film, Mi-Jung finds herself haunted by the exact same ghost. The rest of the film flips between the film WARNING itself and Mi-Jung’s own struggles with the ghost.
At the beginning of the film, there are quite a few jump and comin’ at ya’ scares that work, but still give off more of a popcorn quality than the heavy tone that I think WARNING: DO NOT PLAY wants to have. There is the pairing of the paranormal with tech that we’ve seen in everything from PULSE to RINGU and while the first hour is nicely paced and full of ominous moments, harrowing sounds, and well-placed moments of darkness, it still doesn’t feel like anything new. I also had some issue with how fast Mi-Jung is able to find the lost film. It really doesn’t take much work at all. So, I was feeling like this was not going to be the film I wanted it to be going into it. But right at about the halfway point of WARNING: DO NOT PLAY Kim Jin-won throws some curve balls that really pumps up the intensity, horror, and utter originality.
The reason why THE BUTCHER was so horrifying was that it was a found footage film taken from the POV of the victims. The latter portion of the film has the cameras literally nailed into the heads of the victims, so there was no way the camera would be dropped. The audience was forced to watch the horrifying events basically as the victims experienced them, playing out like a snuff film. And the events were genuinely horrifying scarring even. WARNING: DO NOT PLAY is a film that plays out in a classically cinematic fashion, but occasionally Mi-Jung (who is our protagonist) looks through her phone’s screen to try to differentiate between what she is seeing and what is actually there. So occasionally the first person POV is used. Halfway through, much like the viewer/victim in THE BUTCHER, Mi-Jung walks right into the middle of the movie she is researching and is being watched by her assistant as the movie plays out on his laptop. It’s this meta-style of storytelling that threw me for a loop and elevated this film to another level all-together. It felt more like a Christopher Nolan INCEPTION-like film that folds in upon itself rather than your typical J-horror tech-ghost flick. There was a level of storytelling sophistication at play here involving the observer and the film playing out in front of you that I don’t know if I fully understand, but I know I like it. Kim Jin-won is saying something about the observer being an integral part of the filmmaking process in WARNING: DO NOT PLAY which feels like an extension of the same thing he was trying to say with THE BUTCHER. While it is much more of a mainstream style of film, WARNING: DO NOT PLAY continues the themes that lay below all of the screaming and bloodshed that he began in THE BUTCHER and actually makes me WANT to revisit the film I said I would never revisit, as I think it enriches WARNING: DO NOT PLAY after seeing it. It’s not a leap to look at filmmaker Kim Jin-won’s own filmography with two films spaced apart by a decade and not see how similar it is to the story playing out in WARNING: DO NOT PLAY.
The latter portion of WARNING: DO NOT PLAY gets really bloody. Mi-Jung becomes trapped in a theater without exits with the ghost and it is a truly nightmarish scene to see unravel. Ye-ji Seo, who plays Mi-Jung, is small in stature, but damn if she isn’t the feistiest little trooper I’ve ever seen as she fights tooth and nail against Soon-Mi (the ghost) and ends up with the scars to prove it. While often times the ghost is visualized as a pale girl with hair draped over her face, Soon-Mi is much scarier with bright blue eyes and not an inch of her uncovered with clumps of sticky blood. Seeing Mi-Jung and Soon-Mi tear into one another is a final battle for the ages.
While the beginning of WARNING: DO NOT PLAY felt all too familiar, I ended up being surprised by the last half of it. Kim Jin-won has unleashed an unforgettable monster with WARNING: DO NOT PLAY that pulls no punches and has a rather diabolical take on cinema itself. The meta-textual ending plays out beautifully, forcing you to think about the power of the observer and wonder if a film is made and not seen, is it a film at all? Kim Jin-won answers that question here in ways deeper than I expected. Is WARNING: DO NOT PLAY his autobiographical response to the decade of time in between the films he made? Maybe. What I do know if that I cannot wait to see another one by this visionary filmmaker as he continues to blur the complex relational roles between observer and the cinema playing out on the screen.
THE 2019-2020 EXTRA!
#18 – WARNING: DO NOT PLAY
#19 – JESUS SHOWS ME THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY
#20 – THE BABYSITTER 2: KILLER QUEEN
#21 – UNCAGED
#22 – WOUNDS
#23 – VFW
#24 – #ALIVE
#25 – AFTER MIDNIGHT
#26 – MONSTROUS
#27 – AQUASLASH
#28 – SWEETHEART
#29 – RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE
#30 – WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS
#31 – THE SHED
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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