Found-footage style horror films have become some of the most fear-inducing products of the genre, with films like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and Grave Encounters being some of the most successful. The boom in found-footage films has done wonders for mainstream and indie films; however, trends can tend to be replicated so often that they lose their luster. Luckily, the sub-genre may have found new life, which is all thanks to the magnificent South Korean film Gonjiam Asylum.
With many agreeing that the sub-genre can still be effective, moviegoers were growing immune to the patterns studios began to follow as a cash-grab mentality. Gonjiam Asylum sets itself up as a modern, documented horror title; the film used a few traits we've spotted previously, but in a much more polished, pulse-pounding ride that could arguably be the best title to come out of docu-style horror.
Gonjiam Asylum Is an Homage That Surpasses Its Predecessors
Originality is an important factor to consider in cinema, but sometimes films can be a love letter to a movie, filmmaker, or particular style. If handled with care, a film can avoid repetition and still utilize concepts from something that drew inspiration. Gonjiam Asylum not only did that, but it felt like there was much more nuanced thought behind each idea.
There were several moments that definitely had similarities to each of the found footage films mentioned above — but there's no disputing the fact that Gonjiam Asylum learned from their mistakes and amped up the terror. Typically in this sub-genre, the best scene comes from a 10-minute chase or less that is intended to keep you tense for that final few moments, but Gonjiam Asylum keeps that consistency from the midway point to the conclusion.
Once the events begin, it feels much faster than typical found-footage examples, which is something missing from modern horror. The intention behind a jump-scare is only good for a brief, one-time watch, but the striking visual terrors of Gonjiam Asylum avoids over-saturation.
The Scares Evolve
Another one of the biggest dilemmas with modern US horror is the idea that you can slap a filter effect over a face and have something to spook the casual viewer. With that being said, it can have its strong suits, but it can also become a factor that relies on that film feeling somewhat scary to begin with.
In Gonjiam Asylum, the film starts out with phases of terror from the film-crew. The first wave of activity includes being pulled, doors opening, and subtlety that plays things safe to disarm its audience. As it progresses, physical contact becomes more intense, and manifestations alter the characters for some of the eeriest moments of cinematography that horror has seen in years.
Just when you think you have a handle on that, a disorienting sequence for one character's survival (which is also a perfectly executed scene) adds different possibilities of fear. You begin to question surroundings, shadows, noises, figures, and instead of losing energy, the film only gets better with each frame.
By the film's end, there's yet another spirit reveal that maintains horror and brings focus to fragmented moments of a timeline that can be a strength in films like The Grudge or, in this case, a nice added bonus in Gonjiam Asylum. From speaking in a cult-like chant to the world's creepiest game of peek-a-boo, or even the uncertainty of your surroundings, Gonjiam Asylum lands every transition, and that's an honorable achievement that feels increasingly rare.
A Cast and Crew That Commits
One of the best feelings that came from watching Gonjiam Asylum is that you can tell everyone involved is giving it their best efforts. From a directorial point of view, the combination of steady cams and camcorder is a strong choice that helps eliminate one of the frustrating difficulties of the sub-genre.
From the actor's involvement, each person of the crew felt like they really embodied their characters, preventing you from getting pulled out of the moment. Even prior to the scares, Moon Ye-won gives a believable emotional reaction that sets the tone. Lee Seung-wook strongly plays a role that's rooted in deceit, or there's the overall innocence of Yoo Je-yoon and Oh Ah-yeon that makes the pair the easiest to root for in a film where survival appears to be against the odds.
The audio, camera work, writing, lighting, just about every facet of Gonjiam Asylum felt like the most authentic proof that more international horror titles deserve more appreciation. Thanks to Gonjiam Asylum, a film that began with an idea we know all too well has surpassed all expectations and has officially set a new standard for horror.
Gonjiam Asylum is available to stream on Amazon Prime, so check it out this month if you're looking for an excuse to embrace your appreciation for scary movies.