Nam-soo (played by Lee Sang-yoon) is a producer working for a late night horror show that involves ghosts. Not real ghosts, just actors in ghost make-up. Nam-soo is irritated by the low prestige nature of this work, and quickly takes up the track of investigative journalism when a freak discovery at a shooting location begs a lot of important questions. This trail ends up leading to a mental patient (played by Kang Ye-won) who is identified in hospital records as Soo-ah. The extent to which any of these records are accurate, well, that's part of the mystery.
But "Insane" is more a horror movie that it is a mystery. And the backdrop for that is excellent. Soo-ah is crazy, has to be constantly physically restrained at all times, and her claims of not being crazy are never taken seriously. Whereas in most horror movies the villain is some supernatural force or crazy individual for which the system is of no use, in "Insane" the system is the villain. That gives the movies a much more realistic, relevant twinge to everyday life, where we're more likely to fall victim to bureaucracy than jump scares.
Take the primary villain Hyeong-sik (played by Choi Jin-ho). He's evil less out of malice and more out of method. When rumblings of a conspiracy involving Soo-ah's backstory come up, Hyeong-sik is the perfect accomplice because whatever academic degree the man may hold, he sees himself as a warden, not a doctor. Hyeong-sik has the power to make someone crazy even if they weren't that way to start out with.
This background allows director Lee Cheol-ha to come up with some impressively freaky visuals that never cross the line to being grotesque for the sake of being grotesque. Unnecessary surgery, constantly being stared at by crazy people, and sexual skullduggery all manage to come off as scary in equal portions. Even a weird scene involving a bunch of lit candles manages to effectively portend disaster.
Still, for as much time as is spent in the mental institution, overall "Insane" is still Nam-soo's story. And while the investigative journalist aspect of "Insane" plods along well enough...there isn't really all that much to the movie. Even the final plot twist feels more like an obligation rather than anything else. Of course something had to be something other than what it seemed. Although at that point one does have to wonder- the definiton of insanity is pretty fungible if a supposedly crazy person is capable of that much higher reasoning.
For all its effective stylistic flourishes, "Insane" is little more than a vanilla mental institution horror movie. Which is funny because most mental institution movies feel the need to insert random horror elements, as if the premise of being trapped in a place where everyone thinks you're crazy is not in itself frightening enough. For this reason "Insane" feels a lot fresher than it probably should. But even if just looked at as a pure genre film, "Insane" a pretty slick flick that's well worth a watch.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Insane""
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