As a found footage fan, I take the genre entirely too serious. I get that it’s a subgenre people seem to either love or hate. I personally love it, but I understand it’s very easy to get wrong. That’s why GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM’s take on it was interesting to me. It’s a very straight-forward approach. A couple of twenty-somethings who run a ghost hunting show on Youtube visit an abandoned asylum that’s rumored to be haunted. The goal is to get a million views by opening and entering the most haunted room in the building, room 402.
Yes, you’ve probably heard this premise before, but it doesn’t really detract from GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM’s overall experience. While the approach is straight-forward and entirely predictable, GHA takes its time with interesting character development. The cast has perfect chemistry together, and once I met them I found myself excited to spend the rest of the film with them. That’s not a common feeling with horror movies. I can probably count on my hands the number times I actually liked a cast in a body count film. I do wish some interpersonal relationships got resolved before the shit starts to hit the fan and that feels silly to admit, but it’s a testament to the performances by the entire cast.
An aspect that’s a little uneven would be the translation. GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM is a Korean film that’s almost entirely in subtitles. I usually prefer subtitles over dubbed and in the case of GHA, it starts off very strong. I even wondered for a bit if the dialog was entirely improvised because of how natural it felt, but as things get tenser, the film’s translation didn’t hold up. It can be a bit belligerent at times, but it’s doesn’t ruin the overall experience.
Because GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM is about a reality show, cameras are easily justified, but I thought all the use of modern gear was clever. The overhead shots from the drone were especially cool. And all the Go Pros that were in use made the tech geek in me quite happy.
Anyway, we’re here for the scares right? I’ll say, GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM definitely takes it’s time to get scary. It does an okay job building tension, but it’s nothing exceptional. I found the exposition to be natural, but sort of by the numbers. A lot of GHA is sort of by the numbers. It’s not bad, it sort of simple that way. When things eventually do turn to eleven I found GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM to be pretty damn clever. Scares are executed very well, jump scares manage not to feel very cheap, and certain shots were very effective. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t groundbreaking ideas but they manage to be entertaining nonetheless.
There’s this part with one of the characters, Charlotte, that I thought was particularly good. How her character’s story resolves was really smart and gave me a genuine “aha” moment.
If you are a fan of the genre, it’s very easy to recommend GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM. It paints by numbers,but it’s a good picture. It doesn’t do anything super exceptional,but it’s worth your time. If this isn’t a genre you particularly like, GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM probably won’t convert you.
GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM is available in theaters today.