If you’re in the mood for South Korean folklore and a really creepy sensory aspect… why not try this one out.
Korean writer director Huh Jung returns for the first time since his popular 2013 mystery thriller debut Hide and Seek with The Mimic, a brooding horror revolving around the myth of the Jangsanbum, an evil tiger spirit with the power to imitate human voices. Although things have been quiet on the Korean horror front for a while now, the film won critical acclaim as well as performing well at the local box office, becoming the first genre release to have broken the one million viewers landmark for over four years.
The director, Huh Jung takes a concept which in other hands could have been daft or schlocky, and crafts something that’s both haunting and accomplished. Once again South Korea attracts us to the movie theater with the generic voice of horror. Now presented to us in the most sordid reality, as in the most cruel of decoys. A highly professional film, colorful and, at times, engaging.
The Mimic might sound pretty generic, and the film certainly features many of the tropes of the modern Asian ghost form, right down to the creepy little girl, and does have similarities to a number of K-Horror and J-Horror classics, Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water in particular. However, as with Hide and Seek, Huh Jung again shows himself to be an excellent storyteller, and the film successfully walks the fine line between ambiguous slow-burn chills and more visceral shocks, building patiently and suspensefully towards its grim final act. The folklore background is well-implemented, woven carefully into the plot, and the spirit and its powers are put to good use, Huh working in plenty of atmospheric and eerie scenes, and the film is both tense and frightening in places. While some of the scares are telegraphed, there’s an overriding sense of doom throughout, and this helps make The Mimic an unsettling viewing experience, far more so than any other recent Korean horrors.
The film is all the more effective for Huh’s excellent character writing, and while grieving parents as genre protagonists are always going to be a magnet for supernatural suffering, Hee-yeon and Min-ho are both believably anguished and engaging. Yum Jung-ah and Park Hyuk-kwon are on good form, and the script feels emotional and moving, even its more melodramatic moments serving a purpose – extra points are won for the film’s efficient ending, which doesn’t drag things out in the teary fashion of many of its peers. Dealing with themes of guilt and loss, the film has a melancholy air, which Huh marries with the genre elements to accentuate the viewer’s unease, bringing a sad inevitability to the way things play out.
An uneven but meritorious horror film.
A couple argues while driving in the mountains at night. The man hits a dog and brings its body to the trunk. Inside the trunk is his wife, bloodied and bound. In the woods, the man smashes open a brick wall as his wife slowly dies. He puts the bodies inside and turns to leave when they hear the disembodied voice of his dead wife calling him.
Hee-yeon, Min-ho, and their little daughter Joon-hee move to Mt. Jang with Joon-hee’s grandmother, who is senile, hoping it will improve her condition and so Hee-yeon and Min-ho can heal after their young son went missing five years ago. The grandmother hears her dead sister’s voice calling her from the woods. Two children come in search of their dog, the one killed in the car accident from the beginning. The kids hear their dog barking and follow the sound to the brick wall. The girl is pulled through the hole in the wall by an unseen force but escapes.
The kids run to Hee-yeon and Min-ho for help. Hee-yeon encounters a little girl in the woods but is drawn away by the kids and her husband, who enters the hole and finds a bolted door. When he opens it, a mutilated woman falls through, dead. They report it to the police. That night, the mysterious girl appears at their door and Hee-yeon takes her in. The girl calls her “Mom”, mimics Joon-hee’s voice, and says her name is also Joon-hee. Hee-yeon discovers signs of abuse on the girl’s body. Min-ho is unsettled by the girl and Hee-yeon’s refusal to get over their son and move on. The police track down the man from the beginning, who now hears voices and has eye problems. He is killed by the entity. The detective discovers that Mt. Jang has many missing persons cases, all of whom reported hearing voices of dead loved ones before disappearing. He also finds an old photo from the 1980s, revealing a man with the same little girl Hee-yeon has taken in.
The grandmother covers the house’s mirrors in tape, as that is how the entity comes through. She succumbs to her sister’s voice and follows it to the cave behind the brick wall. Min-ho goes to search for her and disappears as well. Hee-yeon goes to their neighbor, a blind woman, for help. The woman explains that long ago, there was a shaman in these parts who had a little daughter, the same girl who came to Hee-yeon. The shaman would abuse his daughter and slowly became possessed by the Jangsan Tiger (Jangsanbum). He sacrificed his own daughter to appease the tiger’s spirit. Now cursed, both he and his daughter imitate voices to lure in victims and sacrifice them. The woman warns Hee-yeon not to trust the little girl, and that those who give in lose their eyesight.
Jangsanbum attacks Joon-hee; Jangsanbum’s daughter saves her. Hee-yeon shuts Joon-hee in her room, warning her not to trust any voices and to call the detective if she does not return. Hee-yeon then asks Jangsanbum’s daughter to guide her to Min-ho. In the cave, they are chased by Jangsanbum into an area full of mirrors. Hee-yeon is driven into panic by voices and almost gives in until Min-ho, now blind, breaks the largest mirror that Jangsanbum’s spirit is in, destroying him. Hee-yeon, weakened by the little girl mimicking her missing son’s voice, goes blind. At the cave opening, unable to resist her son’s voice, Hee-yeon turns back, despite Min-ho begging her not to trust it and that it is not their son. She returns to the little girl and the two go back into the cave. Min-ho stumbles back outside and is found by the detective…
Release date: August 17, 2017 (South Korea)
Director: Huh Jung
Box office: US$9.4 million
Production company: Studio Dream Capture