A terrifying found-footage horror from the South Korean film industry, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum travels a well-worn path, packs the expected genre tropes, and implements the same formula that other similar examples before it did. And yet, everything about it is surprisingly better & far more effective, possibly due to its genuinely tense build-up & excellent rapport between its committed cast.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum follows the crew of a horror web series that travels to an abandoned psychiatric hospital with the intention of exploring the place and streaming it live on their YouTube channel. But the deeper they venture into the building, the more intense things become and soon enough, everything gets out of hand as the crew encounters way more than what they initially bargained for.
Co-written & directed by Jung Bum-shik, the film features a simple, basic premise and although the entire crew is introduced rather quickly, the chemistry between them develops gradually as the director takes his time to establish the authentic vibe & rapport to make them believable as a team for us. And so by the time they enter the dilapidated asylum, we already are on board with them and invested in their journey.
Events unfold as expected from the moment they arrive at the cursed location. It all goes well for a while, there are few good laughs in between too, but slowly & steadily, the tension ratchets up and though we know what scares it may have in store, there are times when it catches us by surprise & delivers downright chilling thrills. The story only gets more intense & effective as it progresses and it’s at its best during the last 30 minutes or so.
The production design team recreates the abandoned hospital in ways that gives its dark history an additional weight while infusing a sense of foreboding to the surroundings which in turn compels the viewers to keep looking for things that go bump in the dark. The handheld camerawork is as impressive as it is stylish, employing latest photography equipments with finesse. Performances are just as good, for the entire team plays their part responsibly and their expressions of shock, fear, anxiety, disbelief & terror is often convincing.
On an overall scale, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum doesn’t bring anything new to the horror subgenre it belongs to but it does make the most of the available resources to deliver an intense, hair-raising & nail-biting cinematic experience. The film isn’t without its shortcomings but the positives outweigh the negatives by a sufficient margin. Now I’m not sure how it’s gonna hold up on a revisit but purely from the first viewing, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is a gripping, unsettling & edge-of-the-seat chiller. Add to that, the fact that it’s a South Korean production automatically makes it worth checking out.