Review: Gonjiam – Haunted Asylum

‘Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum’ has got all the ingredients to hit a horror homerun, and then some.

Set in an abandoned asylum deep in the Korean countryside a team of influencers hope to achieve online fame by live-streaming a walkthrough and Seanance in the troubled derelict.

There was a time about 10 years of so when you couldn’t move for POV horrors, and whilst I’ll admit I was never a complete convert to the format there’s no denying the intimacy the perspective offers when it comes to delivering straight up jolts almost on demand.

Taking advantage of the recent gap in the market ‘Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum enters the fray at a good time, and pretty much delivers a definitive experience short of walking around the building yourself; that said it isn’t perfect, and I didn’t find its generic jolts to be anywhere as effective as their build up.

The movie gets going pretty quickly all things considered, getting the characters introduced throughout a jovial montage, rather than relying on the usual cringey conversational banter which typically proceeds faux cast introductions. Its not long at all until the team are being introduced to their destination, and the sordid history that accompanies it.

In this case the asylum was ran by a ruthless overseer who relished in torturing and neglecting the inmates. She also had a penchant for playing ping-pong.

Needless to say the inhabitants all ended up dead in a manner of violent acts, so the place is prime for the haunting.

Once the team move in, they begin their sweep of the various dark and dank corridors stopping occasionally to give a little exposition to the camera and or take part in a staged set piece for the benefit of the ‘stream’.

At this point Gonjiam busts out all the familiar moves, doors slamming shut, some spooky objects left out of place, lights going out, all of the above enhanced by lingering shots of darkened corridors all the whilst threatening to have something untoward scuttle out of the darkness; and that’s the best thing about these movies, they do present a context and perspective which put you right there and once the imagination starts firing the tension ramps.

Therein equally lies the counter argument, what actually happens in the climax of much of the tension doesn’t quite meet the promise; well at least in my opinion.

There are so many examples of truly horrifying scares coming from Asian horrors – at one point they were arguably the benchmark for truly terrifying movies – however Gonjiam favours more generic scares that are just that little bit safer and palatable for younger audiences; less grim and more familiar with other more western horrors of late. These still offer jolts in all the right places but where the tension goes off the charts I found the final scares just lacked the killer blow I needed to cement this movie as a modern classic – it’s a shame really because there is a lot of really good work from a technical perspective that really ramped up the tension at several parts of the film.

That said, there are still a couple of really great scenes and despite my personal expectations and preferences, its still an entertaining watch.

Overall ‘Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum’ ends up a solid entry into the POV sub-genre. It’s a solid movie that gets quickly to the point and delivers the cheep and cheerful shocks and jolts fans have come to expect. Whilst its got its fair share of shaky cam moments, and plenty of disorientating screaming there are also some well-crafted set pieces which elevate it above most of its peers.

A HD release seems something of a contradiction in terms when it comes to lo-fi horror such as this, but all in Second Sight have put together a decent package here.

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