Korean Horror Movies. Sigh. Recently they have been utterly dreadful. They occasionally have an interesting idea that is badly executed, or are utterly derivative of what had gone before. I still hope for another entry in the “Whispering Corridors” series, but for now, that’s a pipe dream. So it was with awfully low expectations I loaded up this one, which appears to be some excuse to give the current “hot” stars of the moment a movie. But, rather surprisingly… well read on my faithful readers…
“Mourning Grave” (Or Ghost Girl Story) concerns itself with In-su (Kang Ha-neul), a young man who has inherited a special family gift – he can see and interact with ghosts. This has has been quite a burden on him, and after failing to find his feet in the USA, he decides to move back to his family home in Korea. He moves in with his equally afflicted uncle, the agoraphobic Sun-il (Kim Jung-tae), and transfers to a new school. He encounters problems both real and supernatural – there is a culture of bullying at the school, and he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a persistent but pretty young ghost (Kim So-eun). In-su is encouraged to sort out some of the problems of the past through this friendship, but the release of this burden is merely a starting point to his journey. There seems to be another ghost at the school, one who wears a mask, and is extracting terrible vengeance against the school bullies. Can In-su get to the bottom of the mystery before more lives are taken?
Pretty young stars? Long haired Girl ghosts? Bullies at a Korean school? Stop me if you’ve seen all this before. It’s just ploughing just about every trope a Korean Ghost story can right? Yet somehow, this one totally works. Some of this is because the main pairing are just utterly adorable. Some of this is because the film has a genuine ability to give some fairly good scares. Some of this is because director Oh In-chun simply seems to know his material and his audience, and choses to be more affectionate towards what went before than you might expect. He does little new, but similarly doesn’t attempt to either ramp things up to a ridiculous level, nor be mokingly post-modern about it all. What he does give us is a ridiulous amount of heart. In-su’s gift might not be original, but it totally informs his personality. His relationship with a previous ghost is heart-rending, his relationship with this new ghost is genuinely touching.
I can’t really say the performances are partcularly stellar either – Kang is handsome and sure knows how to emote, but he really is eye candy. Kim is better, especially in the final moments of the film where her story unfolds, here is a girl that could make the step up from popular K-Drama actress. Anchoring the whole thing, giving us a fair bit of light relief, is the experienced Kim. My biggest issue with casting is that all the main players are 24-25 years old, trying to play 17-18 year olds, and to be honest their age shows. But I am being picking, everyone is totally fine. The point is it isn’t any single performance wich led me to adore the film.
How many times have I complained that Korean films are simply too long? That certainly isn’t the case here. In fact, at around 90 minutes, I could make a case that the film is actually too short. There is some strange editing at play here, which gives the flow of the film a somewhat staccatto feel, potentially exposing the fact that this is the directors first full length feature. He still has a little to learn about telling a story, linking certain scenes together. Maybe the rawness to his approach helps us here, again it lets the heart that beats at the core of this film shine through. As I said earlier, he knows his modern horror cinema – look closely and you’ll be able to see influences such as “Ju-on”, “Carved”, even “Carrie”, but he isn’t overly smarmy or clever about it, nor does he allow the game of spot-the-influence overwhelmed the film. I was also glad that a Co-ed school system was used, taking us to some different places that the normal all-girl boarding school that such films normally seem to take place in.
The other strength of the film is its take on bullying. Yes there is a murderous ghost rampage going on (as well as a bit of under-developed back story about a child killer), but the real horror is front and centre and real life. There’s a culture of bullying going on that is recognised but not stopped by the adults that populate the fringe of the film. There’s a real world horror to our female protagonist back-story that is just as scary as anything the supernatural can bring.
I adored this film. Loved it. It’s utterly unoriginal in so many ways. There is a clumsiness in much of the execution. But it has genuine scares, is suitably unsettling and has moments of light humour. Not only that but it has a genuine emotional element to it, and a genuine heart. You guessed it… Highly recommended.