Director: Huh Jung
Cast: Yum Jung-Ah,Park Hyuk-Kwon,Shin Rin-Ah, Heo Jin, Lee Joon-Hyuk
Runtime: 1 hr 40 mins
Rating: PG13 (Horror)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures, Clover Films
Opening Day: 31 August 2017
Synopsis: Hee-yeon moves to her hometown near Mt. Jang, wishing her mother-in-law remembers how she lost Hee-yeon’s longing son, Jun-suh. One day, near a cave at Mt. Jang, Hee-yeon meets a girl in tatter and reminds of Jun-suh. Feeling sympathy, Hee-yeon decides to spare a bed until she findsthe girl’s parents. Gradually, the girl mimics Hee-yeon’s daughter, Jun-hee’s name, voice, and look; eventually, calling Hee-yeon, mom. As the girl enters the house, strange things begin to happen to a family and at last, the mother-in-law who suffered from auditory hallucination disappears to the cave with the legend about a mysterious creature. Will Hee-yeon find her son? Will this family find happiness again?
First off, let’s be honest. There's hardly anything left in horror cinema that can be said to be truly original, and aficionados of the genre will no doubt find many of the images in "The Mimic" familiar. A creepy kid. Slaughtered animals. Sinister forests. awful stuff happening to the main characters, juxtaposed against a couple of requisite side characters: a detective trying to stay on top of investigations into the paranormal incidents, as well as a certain know-it-all enigma who holds the key to explaining the cause of the strange occurrences (but predictably only does so late in the game). Then there are the choice sound effects thrown in for good measure, such as the slow dripping from a leaky tap into murky bathwater and the tinkling of windchimes to generate eerie vibes.
We can deal with a rehash of horror tropes, but we’re more interested in knowing whether the storytelling manages to be engaging or if the scares are effectively delivered. On both counts however, director Huh Jung’s latest feature film displays occasional flashes of promise but ultimately feels like a whole lot of unrealised potential. Fans of Kim Jee-woo’s "A Tale of Two Sisters" may recognise Yum Jung-ah, who plays the lead character of Hee-yeon, a distraught mother of two who has not given up looking for her young son who disappeared five years ago. Her mother-in-law, who appears to be suffering from some form of dementia, was the last to see her son. As a result, the entire family has uprooted from Seoul to the Mt. Jang countryside, the hometown, in the hopes that the soothing surroundings will aid the elder in recalling the events of that fateful day.
Mt. Jang is of course the setting for all the creepy action that ensues, in particular a cave walled up with bricks, accessible through a clearing in the woods, from which evil forces seems to beckon. The family take in a dishevelled, young girl they find in the forest (played by a precocious Shin Rin-a) - because what would a horror flick be without unwise decisions? - who increasingly exhibits an uncanny ability to parrot the voice of and even adopts the same name as Hee-yeon's daughter. Midway, the plot sags somewhat, as the film potters around the family's tolerance of the juvenile's increasingly unsettling presence and correspondingly bizzarre events in the household (once again, conveniently explained away by Hee-yeon's fragile state of mind and protective maternal instincts). Needless to say, and without giving away more, the movie builds up to a dizzying frenzy involving the main characters (predictably, so it's hardly a spoiler here) traipsing down to the good old Mt. Jang cave and learning about the shamanistic origins of the diabolical entity wrecking havoc upon just about everyone.
Unfortunately, the script's greatest flaws lie in the way the story is told - too much is foreshadowed, leaving very little to the imagination. Clues are liberally littered from the get-go, from the opening scene, which lays bare that sinister forces are at work in the cave, to the detective's parallel uncovering of old photographs and case files, right down to the portentous stylings of its characters. The pay-off at the end is scant, exacerbated by a somewhat hackneyed storyline and an ending that falls slightly flat. Somewhere buried in the film's conclusion is a vague underlying statement about the lengths a mother will go driven by the love for her child, but audiences are not likely to feel emotionally invested enough to feel for it, since we see Hee-yeon moping around far more than we witness the bond she shared with her missing son. The result - an intentional attempt to wrap things up on a novel note comes across as unintentionally haphazard.
When it comes to director Huh's set pieces for churning the scares, to his credit, there are some genuinely terrifying moments, mostly involving the strategic framing of mirrors and wardrobes, all of which accompanied by a sparse but effective soundscape that calibrates its intensity when the visuals call for it. However, quite often, the build-up of dread in several scenes don't culminate in the sort of hair-raising climaxes they ought to. For a film titled "The Mimic", it sure feels like a lot more could also have been milked from the idea of mimicry (although here, we should probably point out that the Korean title literally translates to "Mt. Jang Tiger").
That's not to say it isn't a competently-made film. Huh's flair manifests itself in the film's deliberate framing and dark, clean aesthetic. The main cast does its best with the cards they have been dealt, with both Yum and Park Hyuk-kwon turning in individually credible performances as the distressed parents struggling to cope with family tragedy. Shin's doe-eyed child persona manages to evoke either spookiness or pity, depending on the situation, although she probably won't be remembered among the legions of creepy kids competing in the junior category of horror's hall of fame. Moviegoers will probably have a decent time with this flick, but it's not going to be long before most of them cannot recall they ever did.
(The Mimic is decently made but ultimately unmemorable, owing to its misguided investment in telling a story that isn’t particularly original, all at the expense of going full throttle with its scares)
Review by Tan Yong Chia Gabriel