Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
Genre: Horror/Found Footage
Directed by: Beom-sik Jeong
Run time: 94 minutes
The Lowdown: Leave it to South Korea to show U.S. audiences the proper way to create a genuinely scary found-footage thriller.
It also doesn’t hurt that Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is based on a real place, the Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital in Gwangju, just outside of Seoul, which has earned a deserved reputation as one of the most unsettling locations on the planet.
Director and co-writer Beom-sik Jeong, who first caught notice in 2007 with his J-horror favorite, Epitaph, does a nice job setting up the film by introducing a team of ghost hunters from an online company called Horror Times, who petition viewers as to what location they would like to see for a live Halloween broadcast. Naturally, the overwhelming response points to Gonjiam, where (at least in the movie) two young boys disappeared on the same day, 40 years later, that the asylum closed. Additionally, Jeong plays up the reputation of Room 402, which is alleged to be the epicenter of paranormal activity and has remained locked since the site closed.
The Horror Times team includes Ha-joon, the leader, who dreams of getting 1 million views for the broadcast, two other guys and three girls, including Charlotte, a pop-goth princess who has visited three of the scariest places on Earth.
Once the team arrives and sets up base camp near the rear entrance of the asylum, everyone is given Go-Pro cameras along with other paranormal-detecting equipment. Ha-joon hangs back in the tent to monitor the activity.
Immediately upon entering the site, Charlotte finds a spot of graffiti that says, If you enter, you die. Fuck it. Of course, she adds to the wall art by tagging her name.
Almost immediately, shit starts happening. The door to the director’s office, who allegedly hung herself after killing all of the patients, slams shut during an early live update.
The team splits up with some exploring while other prepare a ritual to call forth the spirits. It’s a testament to Jeong’s skill that early on, while not much happens, you’re still overcome with a sense of dread.
Once the team begins the ritual, which involves a series of bells and candles, meant to allow the spirits to offer a sign, I honestly felt anxious, and wrote in my notes: This is damn good so far.
The ritual scares the shit out of everyone but the two guys, who secretly call Ha-joon to tell him that their scheme worked. They rigged the ritual to generate an effect. While on the phone, a disturbance takes over Ha-joon’s tent.
Inside the asylum, things are going from creepy to downright Code Brown, as in shit-your-pants bad. Two of the girls, including Charlotte, bolt for the door. The two guys enter a shower room and get attacked by an unseen force.
From this point on, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum keeps the hammer down, delivering one unexpected shock after another. It’s relentless in the best possible way, but also smart and perfectly executed.
If you’ve sworn off found-footage movies in the past due to the glut of subpar titles being released, BVB is here to tell you it’s time to end the moratorium. You will want to experience Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, and share it with friends.
This is a textbook example of how to do justice to a genre that too often disappoints.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Evil spirits, man.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
The Theta Girl (Film Threat, 98 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): BVB was an early champion of director Christopher Bickel’s debut feature, The Theta Girl, and Film Threat wisely chose the title to kickoff its new distribution label, Film Threat Presents.
The Theta Girl is one of the best first features ever filmed, up there with The Evil Dead in terms of finding creative new ways to maximize a micro-budget to produce something truly spectacular.
It’s a bloody, violent meditation on blind faith, psychedelic drugs and possible first contact with an alien race that wants to mind-fuck the world’s population into subservience.
Scream for Help (Shout! Factory, 89 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Fans of writer-director Tom Holland will want to check out this 1984 offering, Scream for Help, which Holland scripted, which focuses on a young high school girl who becomes convinced her sleazy stepfather is trying to kill her and her mother.
Yes, it’s ridiculous, but for fans who grew up during the ‘80s, it hits all the highpoints that made that decade one of the best ever for this kind of dated slasher fare.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead
Phantasm IV: Oblivion
Horrors of Malformed Men
The Pyjama Girl Case
Now on Video-on-Demand:
The Basement (Uncork’d Entertainment, 92 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Apparently, BVB is on a Mischa Barton high.
How else to explain two new horror releases in a matter of weeks, both starring the former OC bad girl, and both definitely worthy of being recommended for a watch.
The Basement, from co-directors Brian M. Conley and Nathan Ives, is another serial killer thriller in the same vein as The Toybox but without the supernatural element.
Mischa plays Kelly Owens, whose husband Craig (Cayleb Long) is a cheater. One night, in anticipation of getting boom-boom-busy, Kelly sends Craig off to get her champagne. Standing in line at the local liquor store, Craig scans the newspaper headlines, which proclaim, Gemini Killer Strikes Again.
Outside of the store, Craig is sexting his side piece when he steps next to a van advertising clown services for kiddie parties.
Boom. Craig is knocked out and taken into the van. He wakes up chained in a dark room.
And it’s here that The Basement really takes off.
Craig’s assailant is named Bill Anderson (Jackson Davis), and through a series of escalating costume and personality changes, Anderson puts the fear of God in Craig.
First, he appears as a deranged clown. Then a cop. Then a 1940’s gumshoe. Then a prison inmate, who whispers in Craig’s ear, You’re my bitch now.
Anderson never breaks character, or characters, I should say, with each new changeling maintaining that it’s Craig who is actually the Gemini Killer.
As each personality makes his entrance into the basement, Craig suffers more. He loses two teeth. Then three fingers.
Anderson keeps coming – as an attorney, as a father, even as a mother. Craig eventually gets wise and starts trying to play off Anderson’s personality disorder, pleading his innocence. The mother character slips Craig a nail file to cut through his restraints.
Each of the characters warns Craig that he does not, under any circumstances, want to meet the Executioner because the Executioner has a nasty habit of using a blowtorch to decapitate the condemned.
Most lower-budget B movies would never aspire to generate the kind of depth and character development on display in The Basement.
Meanwhile, back at their ritzy home, Kelly is just…hanging out. With her best gal pal, who also happens to be Craig’s side piece.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right – on both counts. First, yes, viewers do get to eventually meet the Executioner, and holy shite, he is one nasty mothereffer.
More importantly, there is a HUGE twist, which thankfully works. Even better, every question you might have gets answered.
The Basement is that rare genre movie that knows exactly where it wants to go and it never strays from the path in reaching its destination.
Cynthia (Indican Pictures, 89 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Cynthia, the newest mother-in-despair with an evil embryo flick, arrives courtesy of Girls and Corpses magazine, which if you’ve ever read, you know is not one for subtlety.
And there’s nothing subtle about Cynthia, which stars Scout Taylor-Compton as Robin, a privileged suburban trophy wife who demands that her husband Michael (Kyle Jones, a dead-ringer for Ryan Reynolds, minus the comic’s impeccable timing) impregnate her.
Robin and Michael have been trying IVF treatments for more than a year with no luck. Until suddenly, she gets pregnant. And then they find out there’s a problem, a little cyst that seems to be gestating right next to Robin’s baby.
You might actually feel sorry for Robin and Michael, if they were likeable people, but they’re not, not even in the slightest.
That means your enjoyment of Cynthia hinges on two things:
One, the abundance of gore that splatters the screen during Robin’s nightmares or after the cyst is removed during birth and taken to a lab to be analyzed, where it emerges as a bloody little nodule of fleshy vengeance, while two hospital workers are getting busy in the lab.
Or two, the smattering of genre icons who cameo throughout Cynthia, including James Karen (The Return of the Living Dead), Sid Haig and Bill Moseley, who makes yet another what-the-ever-fuck-is-he-thinking appearance in a bizarre bit part, this time as a homeless man in drag who terrorizes Robin when she’s leaving the hospital.
Personally, I didn’t love Cynthia, so much so that I didn’t make it to the end. But for some, this may well be a cult classic in the making.
Mermaid’s Song (Wild Eye Releasing, 88 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Personally, I’m pretty jazzed about the sudden explosion of mermaid-themed movies and TV shows popping up. Mermaid’s Song is a period piece that features some pretty decent practical effects. It’s not the greatest (check out The Lure for some truly inspired mermaid craziness), but if you love long-finned ladies, it just might tickle your fancy.
Not to be Overlooked:
American Horror Story: Cult (Fox, 509 minutes, Unrated, DVD): After six seasons, there wasn’t much that American Horror Story hadn’t tried (even aliens, fucking aliens, in season two’s Asylum), but who knew that what this wonderful serial needed most for its seventh season was a dose of reality.
Cult is hands-down my favorite season of AHS right behind Hotel, and not because it lays waste to politics on both sides of the aisle.
This might actually be one of the most timely portends of likely catastrophe ever explored by a mainstream television show, which made its 11 episodes both terrifying and exhilarating to absorb. Come for the Trump-bashing, and stay for the Emmy-worthy performance by Evan Peters as diabolically charming sociopath Kai Anderson.