GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM (곤지암) (2018)

Genre: Horror/Thriller
Director: Jung Bum-shik
Cast: Wi Ha-Joon, Park Sung-Hoon, Park Ji-hyun, Oh Ah-yeon, Mun Ye-won, Lee Seung-wook, Yoo Je-yoon
Runtime: -
Rating: NC-16 (Horror)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 19 April 2018

Synopsis: An internet broadcaster recruits a handful of people for their ‘experience the horror’ show at Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital, a place selected as one of the ‘7 freakiest places on the planet’. They are to explore the haunted asylum and stream it live on their online show. To attract more viewers, the show hosts play tricks on the guests, but things start to get out of control after they sneak into the place.

Movie Review:

It all started with The Blair Witch Project (1999). Viewers were excited about the found footage movie subgenre, and became used to shaky camera work and naturalistic acting over the years. Such movies are presented as it the footage was ‘raw’ and had been edited into a narrative by someone who ‘found’ it.

Gimmicky or not, this subgenre of movies are lucrative and have proved itself to be a hit at the box office. Just look at the Paranormal Activity franchise (how something of such little substance can spawn six movies and an unofficial spin off is miraculous), Cloverfield (2008), Quarantine (2008) and V/H/S (2012).

In Asia, this Korean horror flick is also testament to why found footage movies are still popular. It topped the local box office for two consecutive weeks, beating out Hollywood import Ready Player One. That’s quite a feat, if you ask us.

The story follows a group of teenagers as they embark on a journey to be aspiring YouTube stars on a web series simply known as “Horror Stories”. Their task is to venture into an abandoned psychiatric hospital, which CNN lists as one of the seven “freakiest places on the planet”. The building was shut down in the 1970s after a series of supposed mass suicide of patients. The mental hospital was said to house political prisoners who were tortured and had laboratory tests performed on them by the director, who – guess what - has also vanished from the face of earth.

The cast is made up of unknown actors (do any of these names, Wi Ha Joon, Park Sung Hoon, Park Ji hyun, Oh Ah yeon, Mun Ye won, Lee Seung wook, Yoo Je yoon, ring a bell?), and if you compare this element with other found footage horror movies, it seems to work. You see these characters coming together, having a meal, leaving for their destination (they even made time to go for a dip while en route) and eventually stepping into the obviously creepy mansion. You won’t have any emotional connection with them (who has time for back stories?) and it really doesn’t matter.

What we thought worked was the idea of live streaming so the motley crew’s every move can be witnessed by netizens online. In this day and age of raging social media, viewer numbers are crucial and it is interesting to see how this was worked into the story. In the scare department, you get doors slamming suddenly, bells jingling by themselves and candles blowing themselves out. While these are nothing new or innovative, they work for the casual horror movie fan. There are some well executed sequences in the final third of the movie, if there is anything you’d like to look out for.

Also, with easily accessible and affordable equipment, you see the characters rigging themselves up with go pro cameras and body strapped apparatus to ensure that their viewers get the most out of the web series. One thing though – you may not be able to get the close up images of people’s nostrils out of your mind so easily after the movie.

Does it matter whether this 95 minute movie has a logical or coherent plot? Obviously not, because you are probably there to see what other creative new scares this subgenre can offer. If you do not have high expectations, this should just suffice.

Movie Rating:

(Another entry in the found footage subgenre that does what it’s supposed to do, and nothing more)

Review by John Li


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