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Whether the South Korean horror “The Wig” is seen as yet another in an increasingly long series of films about malevolent inanimate objects, or as a bizarre offshoot of the never ending long haired female ghost cycle, it is hard not to come to the initial conclusion that the premise of a haunted hairpiece represents the bottom of the barrel being thoroughly scraped. That having been said, there is no real reason why such a concept shouldn’t have just as much a chance of being effective as its myriad peers, as there is at least something vaguely unsettling in the thought of demonic hair. If nothing else, the undeniably risible idea sets itself up quite nicely for wacky entertainment, conjuring images of flying wigs and unfortunate characters suffering the indignity of being somehow murdered by their own wayward coiffures.
Sadly, first time director Won Sin Yeon chooses to ignore any such potential amusement, and tackles the concept with an undeserved straight face and an unflinchingly serious manner. What is perhaps stranger, and which ultimately ruins the film, is the fact that he also veers away from the horrific elements inherent in the story, focusing instead on melodrama and a series of convoluted character relationships. Although this in itself is no great cinematic crime, the end result is a film without any real identity or interest that is neither frightening enough to work as horror, nor gripping enough to work as a slice of human drama.
The plot follows two sisters, Chi Hyon (Yoo Seon, “The Uninvited”) and the younger Su Hyon (Chae Min Seo, “Champion”) who have encountered a great deal of tragedy in their lives. As the film starts, Su Hyon is released from the hospital after being treated for cancer from which she has very little chance of recovering. Since the process has caused her hair to fall out, Chi Hyon buys her sister a wig to help her adjust. Soon, Su Hyon is showing a renewed vigour despite her condition, and changes are apparent in both her behaviour and appearance. Chi Hyon slowly comes to the logical conclusion that the wig is possessed and that it is slowly taking control of Su Hyon for its own deadly purpose.
Aside from the presence of a phantom thatch, this is obviously a very familiar set up, and one which has been used countless times before. Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that director Yeon decides to focus on his characters, and to allow them to drive the film rather than its depressingly predictable plot. Unfortunately, this proves ineffective, as all of the roles are poorly defined and sketchily drawn, with murky and obscure motivations, meaning that the film progresses in a manner which is both bewildering and without any emotional resonance.
The viewer is given only hints of the protagonists’ backgrounds, and therefore no real frame of reference for what may or may not be strange behaviour on Su Hyon’s part, or indeed any reason to care about or judge them beyond immediate events. Exposition does finally come around three quarters of the way through the film, and is packed into a confusing two minute montage which seems to have been thrown in as an afterthought, and which is simply far too late to generate any kind of connection with the characters.
The detective element of the film, essential for creating any kind of mystery or interest in the wig itself, is sorely neglected, and basically relegated to a character’s sudden, inexplicable decision to investigate an old factory, which leads conveniently to a series of explanatory visions. Such lazy plotting is indicative of the whole film, and even though the central revelation itself is suitably ludicrous, it is handled in a po-faced manner which smothers any camp value it may have had, and is made all the worse by a pointless, tacked on final non-twist.
Beyond endless discussions which are filled either with tears or cryptic portents, very little actually happens in “The Wig”, and the film creeps along at a wearingly slow speed. Won Sin Yeon seems to have little interest in scaring the viewer, and throws in only a handful of potential frights, mostly based around Su Hyon’s odd and frequently bloody visions, or the old dependable genre staples such as someone looming suddenly into the frame and cats leaping out of cupboards in which they clearly have no business hiding.
Although a wig is obviously not the easiest of villainous objects to bestow with sinister life, the director virtually ignores this aspect of the film entirely, limiting its role to being dropped on the floor a couple of times before sluggishly crawling around during the less than thrilling finale. Visually, the film has a grey, subdued palette, and is shot in a slow, deliberate manner which only serves to drag the pace down even further. This stately, almost self-important air and the constant, discordant choral music mean that the film is simply too dull in every aspect to be as stylish as the director seems to believe.
More than anything, “The Wig”, whilst not technically a bad film or at least no worse than the majority of its all too similar brethren, frustrates as the viewer can never quite shake the feeling that something ludicrous is lurking under the surface, desperately trying to break free despite the director’s desperate attempts to convince otherwise. As a result, the film is no more than simply another ghost story, and a rather lifeless one which takes itself far too seriously, especially given the fact that it revolves around a blatantly ridiculous concept.
Shin-yeon Won (director) / Shin-yeon Won (screenplay)
CAST: Min-seo Chae …. Su-hyeon
Seon Yu …. Ji-hyeon