BLACK HOUSE (aka. Geomeun Jip, 2007) is a South Korean thriller that masquerades as an Asian horror film; in truth the film is more psychological than “horror” although the film’s main premise is somewhat horrifying and quite disturbing. Based on the novel by Yusuke Kishi and directed by Shin Tae-Ra, the film is a definitely a relief from the usual “vengeful ghost” theme that have plagued most South Korean horror films. “Black House” definitely feels more influenced by Hollywood-style filmmaking than the traditional Korean thriller. (Yusuke’s novel was also adapted into a Japanese thriller titled “Black House”)
A meek and nerdy young man named Jeon Juno (Hwang Jeong-Min) is an insurance claims adjuster who gets assigned to visit an old dilapidated house. He stumbles upon a “purported” suicide by a seven year old boy who has been insured for $ 30 million Won. After witnessing the supposed “suicide”, Juno suspects foul play, since he had recently received a phone call a few days before asking him if the insurance company pays out the coverage in the event of a suicide. He gets harassed by the child’s stepfather; Bae Doong Park ( Kang Shin Il) who comes to the office everyday until the insurance money gets paid out. Juno resolves to investigate the boy’s parents and seek the truth about a potential insurance fraud by a psychotic scam artist. As Juno digs deeper into the case, he finds himself more involved than he wanted to, and the more Juno finds out, the more the terror mounts. Juno’s life will be changed forever…
“Black House” is a thrilling attempt by South Korea to escape the usual horror fare that have mostly been “Ringu” and “Ju-On” rip-offs and tries something different. The film does have the right moody atmosphere, style and the touch of creepiness that have made Asian horror very famous. However, this film feels more like a Hollywood film, while it does give its central focus on Juno’s amateurish investigations and the usual Police denials, the film relies a lot on blood and gore to emulate terror. The very mood and set designs are reminiscent of the Saw and Hostel franchises, decapitated limbs are on display that the antagonist’s lair almost looks like Leatherface’s lair in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre“.
In addition to the style, the movie also succeeds in suggesting the terror of psychotic manipulation by a most unlikely suspect. The true “horror“ of the film is that folks can be manipulated in performing obscene acts of violence on themselves. It expresses the message that psychopaths are everywhere and they look like regular folks. Psychopaths are emotionless individuals who are a danger to themselves or to others. Although truth be told, experienced movie watchers will figure out the mystery halfway through the film; the killings and the gore factor will keep you interested as the film evolves into a “slasher” film that will either entertain or bore you. It all depends on how you view the situation since the film feels a bit overstretched on some scenes.
The strongest asset of the film is the cast; Hwang Jeong-Min gives a near-flawless performance as the nerdy Jeon Juno. The actor portrays his role with convincing charisma that I did wonder how a nerdy character can have a great looking girlfriend. Juno’s character seemed a repressed and geeky individual who looks like someone who won’t be able to tie his shoelaces, but at the same time smart and noble, with a “do-gooder” attitude. Kang Shin Il gives a very creepy and unsettling performance as Bae, the man can give Shinya Tsukamoto (Marebito) a run for his money when it comes to portraying a delusional and disturbed human being. Yoo-Seon plays the boy’s mother, Shin Yi-Hwa. Yoo-seon can definitely charm the viewer into feeling pity and empathy towards her character.
Overall, while “Black House” does have its share of weaknesses from its overlong investigations, the survival skills of the antagonist seemed a bit over-the-top and requires a suspension of disbelief, its thematic preoccupations about psychopaths and its overstretched finale; the film is satisfying enough to be an involving thriller. There are enough complexities in its plot and misdirection that kept my interest for the most part that overshadowed the usual “cat and mouse” game and the usual sympathetic protagonist against the cold-blooded killer. There are some hidden surprises that saved the film that I would give this film a timid recommendation.
Recommended with caution, Rent it first [3+ Stars]