In 2013, Venezuelan horror film The House at the End of Time broke on to the festival scene, amassed a ton of awards during its run, and then went on to become the highest grossing horror film in the history of Venezuela. It’s mind bending plot with a powerful emotional center makes it easy to understand why, and it was no surprise when news broke last year that writer/director Alejandro Hidalgo would being helming the American remake under New Line Cinema in a partnership with Andres and Barbara Muschietti under their newly created company Good Fear Film. What is surprising, though, is that South Korea would beat the U.S. in the remake game, with Alejandro Hidalgo serving as associate producer and horror director Dae-woong Lim at the helm.
For those unfamiliar with the original, the narrative opens on a tragic night that sees a mother, Mi-Hee (Lost’s Yunjin Kim) come to from being knocked unconscious only to find her husband dying from stab wounds and her son pulled into the darkness by an unseen force. With no trace of her son remaining, the woman is wrongly convicted for her family’s murder. Twenty-five years later, the now elderly Mi-Hee is returned to her home to serve out time on house arrest, leaving her alone at the scene of the crime to solve the mystery behind that fateful tragedy.
The narrative is intricate and complex, as it weaves Mi-Hee’s story back and forth through time, alternating between her present and her past, then her further past, as the events that led up to that tragic night are revealed. Dae-woong Lim deftly balances the elaborate story, never losing his audience, and all the while subtly building the house itself up as the almost sentient character that it is. The dark, lingering shots of the quiet empty house are atmospheric, though his use of contrast during the day is pushed a little too far with the over saturation of white. For the most part, though, Dae-woong Lim scales back any frills and allows the emotional character journey to speak for itself.
And boy is it a doozy, thanks to Yunjin Kim’s powerhouse performance. Save for a couple of minor changes, this adaptation is very faithful to the source material. Even knowing where the story was going, Yunjin Kim’s turn as Mi-Hee absolutely wrecked me. Characterization suffers nearly in every other area of the film, but Yunjin Kim injects her character with so much depth that it’s pure artistry. Her devastation from suffering loss after loss, her resilience, to her constant fear from both her cheating husband and the eerie nature of the house, Yunjin Kim makes you feel it all with her even when the script doesn’t seem to offer as much.
As with the original, House of the Disappeared is a twisty supernatural thriller with a devastating core told in labyrinthine fashion. Save for one fairly minor alteration on the fate of one character, this remake never ventures far from the film on which it’s based. Which means a similar technical simplicity. There’s also not much depth to the supporting characters, and moments of weakness on the script. That’s ok, though, because even if you’re not seeing anything new, Yunjin Kim’s portrayal of the wrongly convicted mother facing insurmountable loss in a very haunting home is a revelation. While this remake doesn’t achieve anything new, it still manages to leave an emotional mark.
House of the Disappeared made its North American premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival on July 18, and will screen again on July 20, 2017.