After an excessive and complicated migration from the US to Europe, I’m finally set up again to make Atomic content. I’ve refrained from watching any kind of horror film with the absence of my equipment, with the exception of Willy’s Wonderland (2021). I may review that at some point in the future, but not certain. I’d probably have to rewatch it to really have something to say again.
In any case, I’ve been itching to get back to work as Atomic Clown, so let’s talk about Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum.
Gonjiam is a South-Korean found-footage horror film directed by Jung Bum-shik. It was released in South Korea in March 28th of 2018, and in the US just a couple weeks later.
The premise of Gonjiam is that a crackpot group of young adults gather to investigate the supposedly haunted psychiatric hospital of the same name; a structure that exists in reality, and was actually displeased with the prospect of being the subject of a horror film as it turns out. The intent of these crazy kids is to live stream the investigation and reach one million views, ultimately to split the ad revenue between the seven of them. However, the hospital appears to have its own plans.
I have considerably mixed feelings about Gonjiam.
The product is honestly quite unoriginal, clearly borrowing the skeleton and muscle of Grave Encounters (2011), a bit of Hell House LLC (2015), a pinch of The Houses October Built (2014), etc. It’s a bit more of an updated and modern take, for sure, but the trope has existed and been executed too many times to give them a terrible amount of credit. The story is vaguely fascinating, but there isn’t a lot of depth to be found. These streamers come together and film themselves fucking around in an abandoned asylum, there are some expository details here and there but nothing that really matters. And granted, I don’t need a historical essay on how haunted this asylum must be, but what points they do establish aren’t elaborated upon, and feel fairly cheap to me.
The dialogue is pretty cheesy overall, and at times that’s exactly the point. They’re putting on a more theatrical show for the live stream, making things a little bit sillier, but even outside of the investigation I could feel myself cringing at all the clichés and annoying tidbits they threw in. The beginning of the film is actually tremendously uncomfortable, the characters all meet and make awkward jokes, tease each other about how scared they must be, and then literally film themselves leaping into water like they’re on Spring Break while stupid music plays in the background.
Which brings me to another component, the score. Throughout the film there are various tracks of music, mostly ominous instrumentals during the investigation to make the audience feel a bit more chilled or whatever. But the score is present prior to the investigation as well. I get that it’s supposed to be found-footage, delightful, but who edited the footage that was recorded before the live stream to the world? Did the FBI feel that the evidence was lacking in tone?
The performances are decent enough, ranging from tolerable to pretty good at times, albeit there are scenes that I find terribly annoying given the incessant screaming and overall breaking down the characters deliver.
Effects are pretty good, one or two samples were a bit distracting, but I found the graphical and practical production of Gonjiam to be pretty alright. The scares themselves are mixed. About half of the “frightening” scenes of this film are cheap jumpscares executed just fine. No more amateur than anyone else’s. But the other half is surprisingly adequate, with one or two scenes in particular jumping to mind that I found pleasantly unsettling and creepy.
Overall, I found Gonjiam to be a fun experience with some worthwhile substance stirred in, but certainly not an exceptional work of horror. Like I said, it’s just too unoriginal, and frankly too much of the script is just plain stupid. Worth a watch if you just wanna kick back and have some spooks, but I would take any high expectations elsewhere.
But that’s just My Piece.