GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM (2018)

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Gonjiam Haunted Asylum

GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM (2018)
Korean Language with English Subtitles
On  Limited Edition Blu-Ray and Standard Edition Blu-ray  from Second Sight Films

Ha-joon, owner of online paranormal web series Horror Times, is looking to record the best content yet to increase his channel’s viewership. Recruiting six individuals to join him, he eyes abandoned Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital as the focus for their upcoming exploration. Supposedly haunted following the mysterious disappearance of the patients there, and with reports of many teens having disappeared or committed suicide after attempting to get into the locked intensive care unit in room 402, Gonjiam is the perfect location for the next outing.

With the intention to live stream the entire investigation, captured on bodycams by his Horror Times team, Ha-joon hopes to attract a million live viewers to reap financial rewards from display advertising on the online broadcasting channel. All his team of volunteers need to do is keep recording with their bodycams, handheld cameras and the static cameras they’ve positioned inside the asylum itself. With the ultimate goal of finally opening room 402 – the infamously cursed room that has never been successfully opened since the asylum was abandoned all those years ago, Ha-joon is confident that their live stream of the investigation will be a massive hit. But just how true are the so-called horror stories that lie within Gonjiam?

Many times I’ve heard the title GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM crop up when discussing found footage movies but it’s only now, with Second Sight Films’ release of the movie, that I’ve finally got round to seeing what all the fuss is about and whether it’s justified…

Like most great found footage films, GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM takes on other tried and tested horror tropes to make its film a success. In this outing, it’s blended with the abandoned asylum/psychiatric hospital – already a spooky setting for many a horror film gone by. Throw in the modern idea of a live stream with an indie horror channel looking to break a million views and earn those big bucks from the advertisers, it’s a recipe for success for the Horror Times crew. Or have they just cursed themselves for all the world to see?

For a found footage movie involving the characters making their own film, or in this case ‘content’, it’s a more refined outing than we’re usually used to. Ha-joon and his crew are more seasoned than the average Joe who wants to create great content for themselves but end up with the shakiest camera work in the history of man. In contrast to those efforts, GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM is a steady, enjoyable experience whilst still capturing the raw and authentic feel of self-recorded footage, showing that this ain’t their first rodeo with paranormal investigation. But if that’s the case, then are we seeing the truth or have they opted to follow in the footsteps of many televised ghost programmes out there that seem to generate the scares themselves purely to grow the viewership? After all, who wants to watch if nothing happens? This thought lingers as the six scour the building, exploring the rooms and looking for clues of paranormal activity.

The way the film is shot is brilliant, with the front-facing and rear-facing cameras giving a first person feel about the exploration. It’s as though we’re a member of the team ourselves, uncovering the secrets of Gonjiam with the crew. It also brings an intensity to the movie when strange things begin to occur. You can’t look away because the Horror Times crew cannot either – their cameras are mounted on a chest strap that they’ve been strapped into and tightened with a spanner. Like them, we have to endure what they do, which makes it all the more exciting to watch! Simply put, there’s nowhere to hide unless you have a cushion ready to peek behind.

The film boasts some wonderfully creepy scenes, thanks to the disturbing, grungy setting of the abandoned asylum, and you can almost smell the stench of the grot and damp they’re wading through. As they come across some weird finds and experiences, you question whether it’s true or could it be perhaps a setup, just to rake in those web-stream viewers. The Horror Times team can be hard to read as they seem knee-deep in the exploration, uncovering things for themselves and having genuine reactions to some finds, whilst also clutching at straws with others.

As the team uncover the various rooms within the asylum, each with its own particular purpose (shower room, office, etc), it helps to bring a familiarity about the place whilst also allowing the mind to wander at what truly went on there, both when the asylum was open and long since after it closed. It reminded me a bit of Session 9 in that we become accustomed to certain areas which may or may not have stories of their own to tell as time goes on.

GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM is happy to spend time to build up a connection with its audience. At the beginning of the film, we see Ha-joon meet up with a couple of his trusted crew members, Sung-hoon and Seung-wook, and several new paranormal hunters, including supposedly timid nurse Ah-yeon and experienced horror traveller Charlotte (an American Korean). Early scenes do well to introduce their personalities and they bond by playing games in the back of the van they’re travelling in, even stopping off for some water activities (Blob jumping), showing off the use of the face-cam as they are sent flying into the air and then into the water off an inflatable pounced on by the others. This gives a good sense of camaraderie before they focus on the job at hand: recording the investigation at Gonjiam. The slow burn exploration of the asylum is where the tension builds, but just like the characters, the audience is trying to suss and feel out whether the horror stories told and recorded from Gonjiam are true or just a load of hot air.

There comes a point when the perspective on the film changes and whilst you suspect things to up the ante somewhat, the way in which it does is smart and effective. As we watch the characters progress through the asylum, the entire scenario develops a bit of a Blair Witch type quality to it – an element of control being lost. What initially turned out to be a slick, professional execution by the Horror Times team eventually splinters and it’s this what pulls the viewer into the world as things start to break down.

Taking obvious inspiration from Asian horror cinema that has come before it, but also embracing the likes of The Blair Witch Project and traditional horror outings, GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM has managed to modernise horror cinema by taking what works and adding a flavour of its own. The contemporary style does well to resonate with viewers of today, utilising technology of the moment to tell its story. It’s effective in its execution and delivers some disturbing, disorienting creepy moments just when you need them the most.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

Second Sight Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum Limited Edition Bluray

Second Sight Films has released a Limited Edition Blu-Ray of GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM, complete with rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Luke Headlane, a 70-page book with new essays by Sarah Appleton, James Marsh, Meagan Navarro and Amber T, and six collectors’ art cards. The disc itself is loaded with archival featurettes and a couple of new features, with the Standard Edition Blu-ray  from Second Sight also including the same on-disc features.

*New* Audio Commentary with Mary Beth McAndrews and Terry Mesnard

The Scarred For Life podcast hosts discuss GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM, their favourite found footage film, in this new audio commentary for the movie – one they label as possibly the scariest movie of the last decade. The duo have a relaxed, casual yet informed demeanour about them when they discuss the film, as though you’re listening to and discussing the movie with friends. Their style is really enjoyable to listen to and insightful too as the go into detail and break down the scenes and approach to the movie. They also share facts about the film and their interpretation of it.

*New* Fear The Unknown: Zoe Rose Smith on Gonjiam: Horror Asylum (22 mins 32 secs)

In this audio essay by Zoe Rose Smith, set to shots of the film, she discusses scary locations and why we fear them so, looking in particular at GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM. She breaks down how it scares the audience and discusses Asian horror and folklore.

Archival Featurette – The Beginning of the Rumours (4 mins 57 secs)

Interviews with director Jung Bum-shik, Director of Photography Yoon-Jung Ho and the Art Director Jung Sung-Kyun on the idea of the film and the approach to the sound design of the film.

Archival Featurette – The New Faces (6 mins 13 secs)

The director talks about casting for GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM, both individually and in groups. This is follow with clips from the cast members’ auditions for the film.

Archival Featurette – The Sanctum of Horror (10 mins 58 secs)

The Art Director, and to a lesson extent the DOP, talk about recreating Gonjiam asylum at the abandoned Busan Maritime High School and the lengths they went to to make it look as close to the real location as possible. Art Director Jung Sung-Kyun talks about how he captured the look and feel with props, and creation of the set before trashing it to get the certain look of a building that has been explored by kids over the years.

Archival Featurette – The Truth of the Ghostlore (7 mins 30 secs)

The film’s director talks about the ghosts in the film with behind the scenes clips of some of the scenes, including that of the ‘whispers’.

Archival Featurette – The Live Recording (12 mins 59 secs)

For filmmakers or fans interested in how they shot the movie, this dive into how they recorded the film on three cameras a piece (face cam (GoPro), POV cam (GoPro) and handheld camera) is a must watch! The crew go into detail about the camera setups for the film which give it its unique style.

Archival Featurette – The Press Conference (15 mins 55 secs)

A film press conference Q+A with the director and cast in attendance, answering questions about the film and their experience making it.

Trailers (2 mins 22 secs)

Two trailers for GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM

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About Bat 4442 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Yakuza Zero and Mafia III.

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