The 1998 Korean chiller ‘Whispering Corridors’ is part statement regarding the strict schooling regime under military controlled government, and part ghost story about a haunted all-girls school.
Unfortunately, as a horror fan, its probably more the former, with sparse scares and a heavy emphasis on its political agenda conveyed through long languishing scenes of dialogue and hostility towards the students, it’s definitely a film which requires some patience to enjoy the story to its fullest.
That said, it is definitely not one to completely overlook, as there’s a fair bit to enjoy, even if its not particularly scary.
The plot follows two groups of individuals, a teacher, who is returning to work at the school she attended as a child, and a small group of friends who feel in someway connected to some unexplained deaths at the school. In an opener (which would turn out to be the best sequence in the movie) we see a teacher murdered, hung by an unidentifiable assailant, quickly followed by further ghostly goings on as the confused students return to school. The hauntings seem to all point towards an ex-student who committed suicide a long time ago, but its anyone’s guess as to why they’ve escalated now, and how to stop them before more lives are put in danger.
Well, that’s the gist anyhow, as the exposition is choppy and told in different timeframes, and often out of chronology which isn’t always that well telegraphed.
As I’ve said, the opener is a banger. Really nicely shot, great pacing, it reminded me in style (albeit not in theme) of Argento’s opener to ‘Susperia’, in that its such a well thought through set piece; it set a good tone for the rest of the movie. Sadly though, and I’ve got to say here, that pace doesn’t last.
The movie is really nicely shot all the way though, its quite gothic feeling with long corridors and ominous voyeuristic shots taken through tall windows. What the school lacks in lavish architecture it makes up in atmosphere as its spartan decoration and functional build gives it a lonely and desolate feel. Coupled with shots of the occasional hanging schoolgirl and, well yeah, school sucked in pre-1998 Korea.
As with the majority of many Asian horrors there is a heavy emphasis on drama, and here the characters have to contend with the double issues, harsh teachers – with nicknames such as ‘Bulldog’ and ‘Old Fox’ bullying them on whim, and of course the ghost. The former certainly more prevalent, and again, its clear this film, a protest film released following the liberation of the media in S. Korea is every much a statement as say ‘Night of the Living Dead’ or even recent movies such as Peele’s ‘Get Out’. The girls have their own typical angst to contend with, and much of the creepy stuff pertains to how isolated certain students feel and how their loneliness and desperation is preyed on by the malevolent spirits.
Talking of which, well there is not a lot to say. The ghosts don’t take on a particular form, they are typically just portrayed as normal people with limited effects, just some funky camera work to differentiate their haunting moments from the actions of regular students. This doesn’t help the plot confusion too, as (I think) these ghosts can at times possess students, and again, its not that clear who and when. The spooky sequences are really not all that special, and despite some effort at the end, the scares are easily the films weakest element, not ideal for a horror film.
Overall, well worth one watch, if not to see how horror films can be socially relevant and enjoy an emerging film industry from not only a different culture, but also a radically different political regime. It isn’t scary, and it is quite slow, but still, the story (albeit a bit confusing) is still engrossing and with characters you care about.