“Someone Behind You” sees Korean director Oh Ki Hwan turning his hand to horror after enjoying success with the romantic comedy “The Art Of Seduction”. Based on a popular and critically acclaimed comic by Kang Kyung Ok called “Two People”, while the film looks to all intents and purposes like yet another high school ghost story in the vein of “Whispering Corridors” and countless others, it thankfully serves up something quite different, mainly thanks to a very welcome injection of bloody gore and brutal murders, and due to the fact that, against all the odds, there is nary a long haired female ghost in sight.
The film follows high school student Ka In (actress Yoon Jin Suh, recently in “A Day For An Affair”), whose life is thrown into turmoil when she witnesses one of her aunts plummet from a balcony on her wedding day, possibly having been pushed by her husband to be. Things go from bad to worse after the poor woman is hacked into pieces while in hospital by another aunt, and Ka In herself is attacked by a nerdy though homicidal classmate. Repeatedly warned by a constantly lurking weirdo called Suk Min (Park Ki Woong, also in comedy sequel “My Tutor Friend 2”) to trust no-one, not even herself, she is beset by further assaults that seem to suggest that some kind of sinister curse is afoot. Understandably keen to solve the mystery before she ends up dead, Ka In looks to the past for the answers, leading her to a closet full of family skeletons and gruesome secrets.
To get the bad out of the way first, “Someone Behind You” suffers from an overly familiar plot, being yet another variation on “The Grudge”. All the clichés of the modern Asian ghost genre are present and correct, from the usual tortured female protagonist, the secrets just begging to be spilled, and the abundance of explanatory flashbacks, right through to the time honoured mysterious old person living in a remote cabin who just happens to have the answers. Matters are not helped by a final twist so obvious that it barely counts and the fact that the film is an incoherent narrative mess.
Of course, such criticisms are unlikely to deter horror fans, and the good news is that “Someone Behind You” scores highly in every department that really counts, delivering visceral thrills in a full blooded manner painfully absent from so many of its peers. Packing in plenty of shocks and boasting a decidedly respectable body count, it arguably succeeds simply through being unashamed of the fact that it is first and foremost a horror film, and as such is designed to scare. Certainly, the attacks on Ka In come thick and fast, with seemingly every member of the cast wanting to kill her at one point or another, and since the viewer never knows which character is likely to go psycho next, the film is exciting and tense throughout.
It also helps that the film is extremely mean spirited, with a paranoid, nihilistic streak a mile wide, basically revolving around the belief that everyone has jealousy and darkness in their heart which at some point will make them wish others dead. Right from the start it is made clear that no-one is safe, and this pleasantly callous willingness to dispose of characters, be they sympathetic and innocent or not, gives the proceedings a manic, hysterical edge. Best of all though is the complete absence of sentimentality and melodrama, one of the most common pitfalls of the Korean horror genre – something for which the film surely deserves to win an award and which makes it far more effective and satisfying than it might otherwise have been.
Although rather workmanlike, Oh’s direction is efficient enough, and he manages to keep things moving at a brisk pace, showing the good sense to toss in another shriek scene whenever things threaten to slow down. Clocking in at just one hour and twenty minutes, the film is admirably lean, and certainly never outstays its welcome.
All things considered, “Someone Behind You” is probably the most entertaining and enjoyable of this year’s batch of Korean horror films, and whilst it is unlikely to be remembered after the credits roll, it offers a bloody burst of fun while it lasts that is guaranteed to appeal to all genre fans.
Oh Ki-hwan (director) / Oh Ki-hwan (screenplay)
CAST: Yoon Jin-seo