18 July 2024
Terrified men in a haunted house

Film Review – Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)

Found footage horror films are a staple of the genre. While The Blair Witch Project was not the first found footage film made, when it debuted in 1999, it was the catalyst for that style of filmmaking to surge back in popularity. There are at least a couple of found footage horror films released every year, so it is no surprise that even South Korea would tap into making those types of films. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is a South Korean found footage horror film that got the Second Sight collector’s edition treatment. This Blu-ray is arguably the definitive release.

However, as a film, it is a mixed bag of quality. The story follows a horror web series crew that decides to do a live stream at the famous Gonjiam psychiatric hospital. People believe the hospital is haunted and that there is something spooky in room 402, which is the only sealed-off room in the entire hospital. The web series chooses this location for their live stream, intending to get 1 million viewers and bring in ad revenue.

I know it shouldn’t matter, but my biggest issue with found footage films is the rationale and context for why they are recording. The film tries to tackle this from multiple angles, leading to an inconsistent experience. For example, it starts as if we are watching a YouTube video, then switches to a documentary style, but they never explain why the characters are recording their interactions when it is not for the live stream. As we approach the live stream, we sometimes cut to what the website looks like, but then we cut to the characters recording the live stream, so we see and hear things the live stream does not. This led me to question why we are seeing certain things instead of focusing on what is being shown.

To some, this may not be an issue, but to me, it links to another problem I have with the film: it is just boring. The first proper scare does not occur until an hour into the film, and to me, it is too little, too late. I do not care for the characters; they are kind of one-dimensional, and the narrative is just generic.

However, the final 30 minutes get spooky and have some effective and clever scares. One scare uses the fact that they have cameras facing our characters’ faces very well. While I did find the logic behind the filming to be silly, the camera choices in general were clever and creative. I never thought a 360-degree camera would be used in a found footage film, and it was nice to see. Even though I found the characters to be lacklustre, I thought all the performances were solid, and when the horror began, the dread that sank into their performances was palpable.

It results in a finished product that is a true mixed bag. For every moment I liked, there was a moment I didn’t like. So, when the credits rolled, I just wished I had been scared more.

Even though my opinions on the film are mixed, my feelings regarding this release are not. Second Sight has been releasing some of the best collector’s editions around, and Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum continues this trend. The extra features on the disc are solid, with an audio commentary track and a handful of featurettes, but what is top-tier about this release is the packaging. I love the art cards, and the booklet that contains writing on the film is excellent. All of the contents are stored in a nice hard outer case that features beautiful artwork.

See an unboxing below.

So, my conclusion is that if you are a fan of Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, then you should pick up this Blu-ray. It is the definitive release. However, if you haven’t seen the film before or are considering adding it to your collection, I would recommend watching the film first before purchasing this title.

★★1/2

Out Now on Blu-ray / Wi Ha-joon, Park Ji-hyun, Oh Ah-yeon, Moon Ye-won, Park Sung-hoon / Dir: Jung Bum-shik / Second Sight Films / 15


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