The Haunted School trilogy (Whispering Corridors, Momento Mori and Whispering Corridors) actually turns out to be an anthology as the Korean horror film “VOICE” (aka. Yeogo Gwae-Dam 4: Moksori, VOICE LETTER, 2005) joins the trilogy in this franchise. Directed by rookie director Ik Hwan Choe’s installment borrows some elements from David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”, “The Invisible” and Forster’s “Stay”. Despite the film’s gory Dvd cover art, the film isn’t a gory bloodfest. As with many Asian horror installments, it has the same formulas typical to the genre (well, minus the long-haired vengeful ghost) but it is accompanied by a strong script and it turned out to be a mind-freak than a spook fest.
When a young student with an angelical singing voice named Young-Eon (Ok-Bin, Kim) is murdered and her body disappears, her soul becomes trapped within the confines of the all-girl school. For some unknown reason, her closest friend Sun-min (Ji-Hye Seo) is able to hear her spectral voice and interact with her. Sun-min becomes determined to find the truth behind Young-Eon’s death. One day, their music teacher is found dead in the music room--police says that it is suicide. Puzzled, Sun-min enlists the aid of another student named Cho-ah (Ye-Ryeon Cha). Together they must unravel the mystery behind the deaths. Is Young-Eon the one responsible or it there something more sinister within the confines of the school?
True, the film does look like your run-of-the-mill Korean horror film but what separates it from other typical K-horror films is it’s foreshadowing. From the Kiyoshi Kurosawa-style reddish light that radiates as the harbinger of something ominous, the film also focus on NOISE; both in its musical form and vocals. The film has a lot of eerie atmosphere and it is quite effective with its execution visually and its set ups. The film is more a murder mystery mixed in with the spectral world. The ability to hear voices from the alternate world may be the film’s main premise, and the film moves on its proceedings quite similar to a teenage melodrama. The film is movie about friendships, jealousy, selfishness, inner secrets--the need to be remembered, denial and realization. Now, this is not a “sappy” melodrama, there is some violent imagery to be had and while there is blood and gore in its proceedings, it is not a film that relies on visual violence. (the U.S. Dvd cover may suggest otherwise and is rather misleading).
“Voice” carries a lot of emotion in its proceedings. The frustration and fear felt by Young-Eon and the confusion of Sun-min is explored. The dialogue is pretty effective to keep the audience interested and the details of the past is revealed in the form of flashbacks, accompanied with the use of CGI. Young-Eon appears to be a tortured soul, to be aware of one’s ordeal with very little options in trying to find out the truth. Cho-ah is an enigmatic student that supposedly knows quite a few facts about spectral episodes, she helps along the movie’s pace by setting the rules and defining a ghost’s existence. One of the film’s effective moments are the creepy attempts by Young-Eon at communication to Sun-min--the two actresses manages to deliver the right emotions into the sequences and the set ups are quite credible. It is a true auditory freak-out.
The film’s foreshadowing does make a lot of sense once you apply the expressed rules within the alternate world Young-Eon exists. The cinematography is very nice and reflects the mood of the film--the closer the two comes to solving the mystery, the tighter the camerawork becomes. It’s a 5 step process that is quite formulaic in Korean Horror films but it does work when used properly. The convolution reaches its peak when the film’s reasons begin to unravel--such as the reasons why Young-Eon’s soul is stranded in the school. Remember, in order to understand the film, you need to pay attention to the step by step groundwork established by the director. The twists and turns near its climax do reach some levels of a mind-bender, it is complicated and has metaphysical aspects to it, and it does prove sensible in a inexplicable manner.
Now, the film will not induce a lot of scares but the storyline is compelling enough to keep me interested. The mood inducing mystery can sustain the film’s pace and dialogue further enhances its experience. While the film does have some overused formulaic elements in the beginning but it quickly sidesteps them. The film may not as great as the amazing “A Tale of Two Sisters” but it may well be the most visually eerie of the four installments of the “haunted school” franchise. “VOICE” proves to be very enjoyable with the murder mystery that leaves a haunting feeling--its ethereal roots generates the feeling of genuine sadness. Young-Eon’s past is an effective vehicle that managed to generate a few surprises. The manner with which it was revealed was rather haunting and disquieting, and does provide a solid insight as to why she couldn’t pass on to the afterlife.
It may feel like a rehash of “Whispering Corridors” at times but it proved a little more polished, artistically speaking. While it does follow established formulas, it didn’t prove to be a bad thing. After all, following the same groundwork established by its predecessors can lead to success, it’s how successful horror films are usually made. The film does have genuine heartfelt emotions and it is a decent, moody horror thriller and aimed at audiences very similar to its characters.
Video/Audio: 1.78 ratio anamorphic widescreen. A good transfer with vibrant colors but a bit on the softer side at some scenes. Some scenes also suffer a bit from grain and minor print damage. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Korean track is powerful and perfect for this type of film. The accompanying English Subtitles are quite good. Thankfully, there is no dubbed English track.
Extras: Pretty basic and not quite very special. Behind the scenes feature and theatrical trailer.
Recommended to fans of this genre and a good rental for everyone else! [ 3 ½ Stars]
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