It Doesn’t Get Much Creepier Than GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM

Intensely creepy Korean found footage horror is one of the genre’s best

One fascinating phenomenon of the Internet age is the widespread sharing of urban legends, hauntings, paranormal investigation, and “Creepypasta” online. Among the most intriguing branches of this kind of weirdness is urban exploration and dark tourism. You’ve probably seen these sorts of posts before, they’re a favorite of spammy clickbait sites — intensely creepy photojournals or videos depicting explorations of abandoned hospitals, desolate factories, underground bunkers, and the like.

One such real-world site, designated one of the “Seven Freakiest Places on the Planet” by CNN Travel, is the Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital, near Gwangju, South Korea. Jung Bum-Shik’s new film Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, which explores this location in a fictional context, is horror entertainment for the Internet Age. It’s not only closely tied to the popularization of this kind of sensationalized clickbait media, but a direct response to it.

Nope. Nope, nope, nope nope, nope.

Spurred by rumors of the abandoned asylum’s murderous history and hauntings, and galvanized into action by the disappearance of some recent visitors, a horror webcaster gathers up a team of horror-heads, thrill-seekers, and urban explorers to stay in the haunted hotspot overnight, hosting a live broadcast exploring the pitch-black building culminating in entering room 402, a locked door which had not been entered before, even by other explorers, and which is believed to be the most haunted room in the building.

This setup automatically lends itself perfectly to the candid first person (“found footage”) aesthetic, which this film does masterfully. Each of the explorers wears dual-facing GoPro camera mounts, showing both their POVs and their own faces, giving the horror broadcast (and in turn the movie) flexibility to tell the story visually from multiple perspectives. Additionally, the team mounts motion-detecting surveillance cams throughout the building to try to capture any paranormal movements.

This is immediately among the best and scariest of the genre. I would readily put this in the same conversation as the first couple REC and Paranormal Activity films, not only in terms of scariness and overall quality, but for similarities in execution. The mounted surveillance cameras in Gonjiam definitely call to mind those of Paranormal Activity, while REC’s harrowing pitch black finale is a clear influence on the overall aesthetic here. And unlike those films, the setting here is not one of familiar domesticity like a house or apartment building, but a truly creepy place that continuously exudes bad vibes. The tension is immediately in play as soon as they gang arrives at their destination, and ratchets up consistently as the explore the building and things get nuts.

And on that note, there are a couple of nice, subtle things that the film does pretty well. The characters are introduced in cheery, well-lit sequences that gives us a chance to get to know them a bit, and we spend some additional time with them as they make their trek. They’re still somewhat thin characters, but this is a genre where that’s actually okay — they’re largely avatars for the audience to inject themselves into.

Side note: There are two expository dinner scenes in the film’s first 20 minutes — don’t watch this hungry.

Secondly, the location is critical in this film, and to that end they to a nice job not only in recreating the real location, but of establishing a sense of the space, despite the darkness. By calling out the different floors that the group splits off to explore, and demonstrating the general pattern of the architecture, we don’t lose our bearings — until the movie wants us to.

Gonjiam is among the genre’s best. Intensely creepy throughout, and downright terrifying in the finale, it’s not only one of the pinnacle representations of this branch of immersive filmmaking, but a meta-commentary on the cultural phenomenon of internet sensationalization.

Highly recommended.

The Package

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is available on Blu-ray September 18 from Well Go USA. The Blu-ray Combo package also includes a DVD.

Special Features & Extras

The disc’s only extras are a handful of trailers.

Theatrical Trailer (1:35)

Promo Trailers
Trailers for upcoming Well Go USA releases Believer (1:43), Champion (1:37), and The Mimic (1:05).

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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