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The South Korean horror film “Nightmare” is a slasher film in the vein of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” with heavy doses of supernatural elements ala the Japanese film “Ring.” It’s a pretty standard Asian horror film, with a pretty standard ghost, a standard female heroine, and (dare I say it) pretty standard scare and kill scenes. In a word, “Nightmare” is…standard.
The film tells the tale of a group of close-knit college friends who are haunted by the mysterious death of a girl name Eun-ju (Ji-weon Ha) 2 years earlier. As the movie opens, good girl Hye-jin (Gyu-ri Kim) is experiencing supernatural situations that convinces her something, er, supernatural is going on. It seems the ghost of Eun-ju, 2 years dead and royally ticked off at something, has returned to pay personal visits to each and every one of her old buddies. As it turns out her “buddies” weren’t really her buddies after all, and her death, once considered a suicide, might not be suicide after all…
I should probably point out once again just how standard of a ghost movie “Nightmare” is. There is absolutely nothing here that hasn’t been done to death in the Japanese films “Ring” and its sequels, or in the South Korean horror film “Memento Mori.” Like those films, “Nightmare” relies on the same gimmick to (supposedly) scare the audience. They involve the ghost of Eun-ju appearing out of thin air and disappearing a second later. There’s also the old Asian horror film standby of dressing Eun-ju’s ghost all in black, with white face-paint, dark, dead eyes, and long flowing black hair. (And if I see one more scene where the camera focuses in on the back of a character’s head, and then pans to reveal a ghost standing before the character (or behind him/her)…) It’s been done to death, so much so that I couldn’t help but snicker at just how familiar everything is.
Besides breaking no new ground, director/writer Byeong-ki Ahn has a hard time getting a handle on his timeline. The movie opens in the past, shifts to the present, and then shifts back into the past, only to return to the present. Except for one caption that tells us the movie is taking place 2 years in the past (in the opening scene), the rest of the film skips through time without bothering to fill us in on the particulars. Of course I figured out that the film was doing a nonlinear dance, but it was irritating that the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to fill me in, especially when they did so in the opening scene. Why bother doing it once, then not again?
That isn’t to say “Nightmare” is completely a throwaway film. Jeong-yun Choi, as the vindictive and bitch-on-wheels Seon-ae, is amazingly good. And so is Jun-sang Yu as Jeong-ok, the lawyer who refuses to lose his cool even when his friends are being chopped to pieces all around him. Unfortunately lead Gyu-ri Kim suffers from what I call “Slow Bore Horror Syndrome” — that is, she walks through every scene with the same dazed, bored, and oh-so dull look on her face. I first noticed this phenomenon in the Japanese horror film “Ring 2,” and have seen it in numerous other movies. The absence of personality and charisma in the lead heroine seems to be a mainstay of Asian horror films.
Still, “Nightmare” has a number of good scenes, but none are of the “Oh, I’m so scared” variety. Instead, they’re more of the “That was neato” vibe. Credit goes to director Byeong-ki Ahn for the visual treats, but there were moments when the film tries to overwhelm the audience with loud, pounding music meant to shake us, but only ends up annoying us, simply because the events taking place onscreen are so…pedestrian. I kept thinking, “Been there, done that,” while watching “Nightmare.”
Besides being standard in its horror aesthetics, “Nightmare” has a rather low bodycount, and the kill scenes do not warrant such lengthy stalk scenes that preceded them. For instance, we get scenes of characters being stalked for long periods at a time, only to have the kill scene be…weak. That is, if there is a kill scene at all. Most of the time the stalk scenes have no payoff, which is rather irritating, to say the least.
Besides the first kill, which features a character in a phone booth and broken glasses, the rest of the film is underwhelming. And in a movie that has fallen into the arena of slasher films, weak kill scenes is the kiss of death (pun intended).
Byeong-ki Ahn (director) / Byeong-ki Ahn (screenplay)
CAST: Gyu-ri Kim …. Hye-jin
Ji-weon Ha …. Eun-ju
Jeong-yun Choi …. Seon-ae
Ji-tae Yu …. Hyun-jun
Jun-Sang Yu …. Jeong-ok