Pretty much every summer sees a clutch of horror films hitting Korean cinemas, and 2012 was no exception, one of which was “Two Moons” (a.k.a. “The Sleepless”), a chiller revolving around a group of strangers waking up in a strange, possibly haunted house in the woods. The film has a decent genre pedigree, having been directed by Kim Dong Bin, previously responsible for the fun “Red Eye” in 2005 and Korean “Ringu” retread “The Ring Virus” in 1999, with a script by Lee Jong Ho, writer of Ah Byeong Ki’s popular 2005 hit “Bunshinsaba: Ouija Board”.
The film kicks off in sinister fashion, with a group of 3 strangers waking up in the basement of a remote house in the middle of a forest, with no memory of how they got there. Unemployed graduate Seok Ho (Kim Ji Seok, “Take Off”), horror and mystery writer So Hee (Park Han Byul, “Yoga”) and schoolgirl In Jeong (Park Jin Joo, “Sunny”) venture out and explore the house, which despite being apparently empty has an eerie atmosphere, the trio hearing strange noises and seeing figures lurking around. Finding themselves unable to escape the forest, they decide to wait for dawn, while trying to work out why they are there and what the connection between them might be.
It’s no secret that Korean horror has of late been in the creative doldrums, with only a few films in recent years standing out or offering anything even vaguely new. Thankfully, with “Two Moons”, Kim Dong Bin at least makes an effort to add something of a twist to the usual formulas, offering up a horror which mixes mystery and psychological elements rather than churning out the usual vengeful ghost tale. While opening with strangers in a basement isn’t itself anything new, and although genre veterans and fans of cinematic puzzles will probably guess the major twist, there’s still plenty to be figured out, and the plot is well constructed and gripping, with a few surprises here and there.
Kim and writer Lee do a good job of gradually revealing the film’s secrets, skilfully working in flashbacks and memories (many of which are found to be unreliable), and keep the pace up throughout the short sub-90 minute running time, despite the occasional lapse in pacing. This in itself is no small achievement, and the film certainly feels fresher and more inventive than the majority of other Korean horrors of the last year or so.
This ambiguity and mystery works very well for the first half of the film, and wisely Kim shifts things up a gear before the scenes of the characters wandering around and failing to find a way to escape get too repetitive. After there being only a few jump frights here and there in its earlier scenes, the film does get to the horror as things progress, and there are some very solid scares and creative use of the supernatural towards the end, making for a reasonably rousing climax. When fully revealed, the premise itself is fairly intriguing, and without wishing to spoil any of its surprises, the whole two moon concept of there being one moon for the human world and another for the underworld is well implemented, with some visually impressive shots of the night sky. Kim does a particularly good job when it comes to generating an ominous atmosphere, making great use of what was obviously a pretty limited budget, and the house set is effectively utilised for an air of increasing claustrophobia.
While none of this is enough to make “Two Moons” outstanding or terribly memorable, it’s nevertheless a superior example of Korean horror, and one which proves that there’s still life in the form. Kim Dong Bin shows again that he’s one of the country’s better genre helmers, and it’s a shame that his output hasn’t been more prolific, as he clearly has more to offer than many of his contemporaries.
Kim Dong-bin (director) / Lee Jong-ho (screenplay)
CAST: Park Han-byeol