THE GHOST (2004)

Country: South Korea

Year: 2004

Genre: Horror

Director: Kim Tae-Kyung

Cast: Kim Ha-Neul, Nam Sang-Mi, Ryu Jin

GHOUL RATING: 2+ **(*)

Story: Ji-Won is a bright student (or so we're told: we never see her say or do anything really bright). Only trouble: she suffers from amnesia. Something terrible happened in her past, but there's no one in the world to tell her what that was. Her demented mother doesn't tell her, her school friends don't tell her. Then some of the friends start dying. They're technically drowned (lungs filled with water), although found in their living or photo rooms. The police don't find this particularly strange, even after a mental patient who was tied up to her bed is found drowned in this very bed. Happens all the time. Anyway, the usual 'unraveling of the mystery from the past' follows, with the usual 'mean trick backfired' revealed, the usual 'revenge', the usual confrontation, and the slightly unusual (because so preposterous) twist ending.

Review: The hardest movies to review are the average ones: those that follow the rules established by their predecessors without ever really showing the slightest hint of ambition to transcend those. Comfortably snuggled in the confines of cliché they trod their ways through another 'been there, done that, got the T-shirt' tired plot. The film's title is the epitome of unoriginality: THE GHOST. Oh, yeah, no surprises there. Let's make it as obvious as can be (even if the alternative title is DEAD FRIEND).

The opening scene establishes the tried and tested formula of Girls+Ghosts: they either recount some spooky urban legend (as in RINGU, and dozens of its clones, including the recently reviewed ARANG) or meddle with ghosts in some infantile way, like here, where they're playing with an Ouija board. Have you noticed how these ghost flicks never have guys as main characters? It's because this particular subgenre is predominantly oriented towards the girl market: they seem to be eating up any ghost story they're served. That's why these flicks are always about a girl, or a bunch of girls, getting into trouble with ghosts summoned or unsummoned.

The plot is as worn out as can be: a group of girls did something bad in their recent past; someone was killed due to a silly prank; a vengeful ghost appears and kills the girls involved; the final girl tries to unravel the 'mystery'; it leads to the inevitable 'go to the death scene and find the body' conclusion; and of course, would you believe it, when everything seems to be fine and dandy at the end – there's (surprise! surprise!) a TWIST! And a twist on the twist. And the final turn of the screw that just explodes the whole construction. Yawn!

Images are all déjà vu: long strands of hair coming out of the sink; creepy water effects (in one would-be scary scene we're treated to what appears to be a footage in reverse of a girl peeing down her legs); photo developing lab as the setting (with the inevitable 'ghost appears on the photograph, unseen by the cheerful morons standing in the front' trick); dripping wet ghosts; spooky dolls; scary ghost-eyes staring behind the wiry hair; ghost hands crawling on the floor, slowly advancing towards the hapless victim… You name it, they have it, unashamedly. The direction is also along those lines of 'inventiveness': false scares, sudden movements in front of the camera accompanied by a loud noise, double-wakes (you know the drill: a girl wakes up: seems there's a ghost: she jumps: no, it was just her dress: everything's ok, go back to sleep: bang- there's a ghost in her bed! wake up again, this time for real)… No old trick is beneath these purveyors of cheap scares, not even that despicable evergreen: the hand on the shoulder jolt!

Since the basic plot is so… basic, they felt the need to spice it up with some unrelated and/or silly stuff. For example, it never really explains a couple of plot points, like: how does the opening witchboard invocation connect with the rest of the movie, and who is the first girl killed? If the whole thing hangs on the revenge to some very specific wrong-doers, why is this unrelated character killed? Also, there's a little girl ghost which appears in several scenes, though it's never connected with the big-girl-revenge plot. I guess she's there because ghost kids are scary, as seen in DARK WATER, THE GRUDGE and elsewhere. Well, maybe they were scary, the first five or six times, but now… they're an old trick used in the same old, same old way. You can crawl around with your wet doll all you want, girlie, but we've seen your ghostly brothers and sisters so many times now, you'd better give up and go back to your mommy.

The main 'spice' that's added to a boring, linear story is the twist ending. It is so convoluted and stupid that it inspired discussions on numerous forums about who possessed whom, whose ghost was in whose body at which point in the movie, who did what to whom, etc. The overall effect is that of a thoroughly bland, tasteless dish that someone felt the need to spice up with so much salt and pepper that now it's even more inedible than before, when it was just bland. It will leave you scratching your head or cursing or maybe throwing stuff at your TV… or perhaps you'll rush to the internet to see the explanation for what the filmmakers were supposed to tell you, but couldn't. My advice: save yourself some time – it's stupid, too complicated and makes no sense at all. Leave it be.

On the positive side: the acting is solid for this type of flick (with the exception of the asylum girl, who overacts so much you'd expect Leslie Nielsen behind the corner), the effects are good, the pace is passably quick, and the photography (by Moon Yong-Sik) is exceptionally good: if nothing else, this must be one of the best looking recent Korean horrors, and its visuals (if not the substance) are way above average. Sadly, the content is so immaterial it could scare and entertain only the most undemanding and the most uninitiated. If you've seen more than three Asian horrors about ghosts, you can freely skip THE GHOST, as it offers nothing new whatsoever.

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