September 14, 2018 Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (Movie Review)
Strap on your GoPros and get ready to explore the latest Found Footage offering out of South Korea, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum arrives to Digital, Blu-ray combo pack, and DVD formats on Tuesday, September 18, 2018, thanks to Well Go USA Entertainment.
Recently, a group of high school students went missing inside the Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital while investigating the building’s most haunted location: the mysteriously ominous (and cursed!) Room 402. This asylum, in South Korea, was shut down in October 1979, after a series of mass patient suicides. It is reportedly one of the three most-haunted locations in South Korea. As with all abandoned psychiatric hospitals, the rumors surrounding the property are vast and wide, full of urban legends that surround the meaning of its location, its purpose (secretive and otherwise), and much, much more.
Due to this recent hoopla, Horror Times, a popular YouTube channel, has decided to hand the case over to their Terror Squad to stage a live investigation of the property. For this Terror Squad, the group has selected a rag-tag team of seven individuals that includes three men and three ladies.
The ladies are Charlotte (Ye-Won Mun), Ji-hyun (Ji-Hyun Park: Meat 2016), and Ah-yeon (Ah-Yeon Oh: December 2013, Falsify series), an experienced videographer, a member of a dance crew, and a quiet nursing school trainee. The men are mostly members of Horror Times, including Seung-wook (Seung-Wook Lee), Sung-hoon (Sung-Hoon Park: Six Flying Dragons series, Falsify series), Ha-joon (Ha-Joon Wi: Something in the Rain 2018), and Je-Yoon (Yoo Je-Yoon).
Upon arriving at Gonjiam and, to carefully avoid the authorities, driving around to the back entrance, the team assemble a staging area in a tent where one person can man the electric controls and keep an eye on all the monitors. Harnessed to individual GoPro configurations and equipped with EMF detectors, the group of six approach the forbidden walls of the asylum and discover a large piece of ominous graffiti that announces “Enter and You Will Die!” As if this is not enough of a warning, as soon as they enter the building, the director’s office door slams shut while they are broadcasting their arrival speech to their online audience.
As the supernatural phenomenon begin to escalate, a twist is thrown into the works that will leave a portion of the group even more scared out of their wits than they ever could have predicted. What is going on at Gonjiam and who will survive to tell this spooky tale? Clocking in at 93 minutes in-length, Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum was directed by Beom-sik Jeong (Epitaph 2007, Horror Stories 2012), and was written by Jeong and Sang-min Park. The film fits perfectly into the Found Footage sub-genre of Horror, and, scare-wise, sits somewhere alongside such classics as 1999’s The Blair Witch Project and 2007’s Paranormal Activity – though it is more reminiscent of more recent offerings such as 2018’s Delirium.
It is important for American audiences to understand that Gonjiam is, indeed, a real-life abandoned psychiatric hospital near Gwangju in South Korea. Yes, it is actually one of the “Seven Freakiest Places on Earth” according to CNN Travel, and you can read all about it on the Atlas Obscura website. Because Gonjiam is a real place with its own legends and supposed hauntings, setting a film here would be the equivalent to executing an American Horror offering in, say, Pennsylvania’s Pennhurst Asylum or Kentucky’s Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Due to the notoriety of the location, there’s already a built-in audience and UrbEx lovers can rejoice!
The major downside to Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is its Found Footage format, which, while befitting of its script, has been so overdone here in America as to be an almost immediate eye-roller. Of course, the traditional negatives of Found Footage apply here: namely the constant jostling viewpoint that is apt to make those prone to motion sickness turn a bit green – and not from fear!
The acting here is solid from each of the ensemble cast, which is expected as all the cast really have to do is act like a bunch of young people who are initially having the time of their lives, and ultimately end up running for them. They do a great job of looking horrified when the film begins to unleash its paranormal phenomenon – doors opening and closing on their own, writing changing on the walls, objects moving, people being scratched by unseen forces, etc. There’s a lot of screaming and running in circles, as well as an extensive use of black contact lenses. But all of this aside, the cast really go sell the idea that this asylum is mega-creepy and not somewhere you want to visit at midnight, or, for that matter, any time of day.
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum definitely has its creepy moments and it moves at a largely steady clip, it merely suffers under the weight of its own built-in flaws and its cliché script. Let’s face it: we have seen a group of attractive young people go into an abandoned building to investigate, only to end up victims of the supernatural; it has been done ad nauseum.
So, while Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is inherently flawed and cannot possibly achieve a groundbreaking status in Horror, it is a smooth production, one that will creep out quite a few viewers and make some people sleep with their lights on for a night or two. In the grand scheme of things, it achieves exactly what it sets out to do: spook a few unsuspecting viewers. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum 3 of 5 stars.