The horror genre is a category that has been exhausted to say the least, despite the fact that the movies that fall under it are still among the most popular internationally, particularly regarding mainstream audiences. In that fashion, the most interesting aspect of any new film of the category is to see if it has managed to include any elements that will allow it to stand out from the plethora of similar productions. To begin with, the answer to this question in the case of "The Closet" is positive.
Sang-won is a contractor who has recently lost his wife due to a car accident that forced him to take a closer look to his non-existent relationship with his little daughter, I-na. In a desperate effort to come closer to her, they move to a secluded house in the country, which Sang-won believes will allow them to have more time to get to know each other. One day, however, I-na tells her father that she has a new friend, although Sang-won cannot find him anywhere. Furthermore, unusual sounds and I-na laughing out of nowhere become a tendency, while a closet seems more ominous than it should be. Despite his worrying, Sang-won is forced to return to his work, for fear of losing his job, and that is when tragedy happens. After a distressed call by a baby sitter who left the house terrified, he returns to discover that his daughter is nowhere to be found. Frustrated and despaired, Sang-won turns to the police and eventually to TV, but to no avail, since I-na continues to be missing and there aren't any clues regarding her dissappearance. Eventually, an exoricst named Kyeong-hoon appears to his doorstep, and manages to convince him that the girl is still somewhere here and that he can bring her back. Alas, the two men soon find out that they are up against something more sinister than they ever imagined.
Evidently, a number of the trademark clichés of the genre are here. The haunted house, the closet, the imaginary friend of the little girl, ghosts, ominous dreams, monsters with a certain weakness (in this case, they cannot see the people who keep their eyes closed) and the new omnipresent element of Korean horror/thriller, the exorcist, are all part of the narrative. However, there are a number of elements that allow the film to stand out. Firstly, the social commentary about the lack of connection and even communication between parents and children in the contemporary Korean society, where professional life is so demanding, that leaves but a very little space for meaningful interaction. Secondly, the concept of child abuse, which is soon revealed one of the main themes of the film, with the way the mystery unfolds presenting it in the most eloquent way, despite the supernatural elements. Thirdly, and consequently to the two aforementioned, the concept of family, and how dysfunctional relationships can be nowadays. Lastly, Kim Kwang-bin has also entailed some elements of comedy that add to the entertainment the film offers, with the scene where Kyeong-hoon asks Sang-won if he has seen "Along with the Gods" offering a truly hilarious moment.
Furthermore, the chemistry of the two protagonists, Ha Jung-woo as Sang-won and Kim Nam-gil as Kyeong-hoon is evidently excellent from the first scene they appear together, with Kim Kwang-bin "playing" with the differences of both their characters and their actual appearance in the most artful way. Heo Yool as I-na has a relatively small part, but there are moments when she looks truly scary, which is definitely a tick in the pros column of her performance.
Since "The Closet" is a supernatural thriller, both SFX and sound play a rather significant part, and due to the evident big budget, both these factors are on a very high level. In that fashion, the jump-scares are well placed and implemented, and in a number that allows Kim to invest also on the overall atmosphere of horror, which is also well implemented. The various ghosts look realistic with the fact that they are portrayed as children adding more to the scare they offer. It is easy to say that the production values find their apogee in the scene in the Other World, which is visually impressive as it is agonizing. The playground ladders that are shaped as DNA chains also add a metaphorical element to this scene, which provides a great closure to the main story.
"The Closet" is not high-art, and the truth is that the context definitely has a secondary role to the image, sound and the overall atmosphere. However, the film is well-directed, well acted, entails a good production and enough elements to make it stand out, and that is where its true value lies.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[Hancinema's Film Review] "The Closet" "
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