I want to start out by saying that I had to pause this rather good film because I got too excited when I was able to read some of the Korean on the ramyun cup the exorcist was eating. I also enjoyed having to type out that previous sentence.
The Closet [클로젯] is yet another example that South Korea seems to do horror better than anywhere else, and man, does the simplicity of this story get under my skin – the terrifying mysteries of the titular closet, something that everyone has in their home. I’m a sucker for everyday things having a sinister otherworld and, ever since I was stupid enough to read Stephen King’s short story (I can’t read his novels) The Boogieman, as a kid (fuck, even typing that out makes me scared about my bedroom closet, despite the fact that I’ve had a new one put in since then. Maybe the demonic ghosts got upgraded, too.
Speaking of which, some kind of inhuman entity has taken Sang-won (Ha Jung-woo)’s 11-year-old daughter Yi-na (Heo Yool, turning in a fantastically creepy yet reserved performance that many adults couldn’t match), a year after his wife and the girl’s mother died in a car accident that wounded the other two. Since the accident, father and daughter have started to become like strangers to each other. One day, after a heated argument involving a horrifying-looking doll (amid dozens of others in the room), Yi-Na goes missing. Months later, after having tried everything, Sang-won turns to an exorcist (the fun but slightly over-emoting Kim Nam-gil) for help.
So, the story’s pretty linear, and felt like it was just lurching from one scene to another, without much conflict, and feeling like a video game (this task, then this location, etc). And, at just over 90 minutes, this is far too short (even for a Korean movie) for everything that goes on, and yet it starts to drag as it meanders. The first third I’d have given five stars for the atmosphere, the tension, the background, all these things that were being built up, but then the film can’t decide where it wants to go, and it seems that no matter what random threads Sang won pulls at, he still gets answers and the film chugs along to its next stop.
There are some wonderfully effective jump-scares (which normally I hate), and clever photography and editing keeps the viewing experience unpredictable. The scenes involving the exorcist’s ritual were fascinating to watch, and the deadpan humour from the scenes between the two leads were welcome relief to the tension. But the content itself felt ripped from a Hallowe’en episode of a by-the-numbers procedural show rather than something a bit more substantive, and the characters are just flat – in particular, Sang-won seems stone-faced to everything that happens to him; his first encounter with one of ‘The Eyeless’, one of the entities almost makes grave physical contact, but his expression is unchanged. Considering there are scenes establishing that he suffers from (and takes medication for) debilitating panic attacks, this is unrealistic. Even if you saw a wasp, you’d have a stronger reaction than just…nothing. Perhaps that’s why Kim Nam-gil hams it up a bit.
But these are minor grumbles; on balance, I still enjoyed it and, while I probably won’t be rushing to see it again, I can see this doing very well at watch parties or in crowded cinemas. Its pacing, scares, detailed lore, and entities are expertly done – even the music deserves some applause – but I just wish they’d added up to a more memorable film.