Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018) South Korean Movie Review

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (Korean: 곤지암; Hanja: 昆池岩; RR: Gonjiam) is a 2018 South Korean found footage horror film directed by Jung Bum-shik. Based on a real-life psychiatric hospital of the same name, it stars Wi Ha-joon, Park Ji-hyun, Oh Ah-yeon, Moon Ye-won, Park Sung-hoon, Yoo Je-yoon and Lee Seung-wook in the lead roles. The narrative centers around a horror web series crew that travels to an abandoned asylum for a live broadcast in order to garner views and publicity.

The film opened theatrically in South Korea on 28 March 2018 and in USA on 13 April A commercial success, it also became the third most-watched horror film in South Korea after A Tale of Two Sisters and Phone. Later, it was screened at the 20th Udine Far East Film Festival.

Two teenage boys are recording their exploration of the abandoned Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital, where rumor states that the director of the hospital killed all of the patients and went missing. The two head to Room 402, the intensive care unit, which no one has opened before. They try to open the door but suddenly hear a ping pong ball. Their broadcast abruptly ends. After seeing news of the teenagers’ disappearance, Ha-Joon, the owner of YouTube channel “Horror Times”, decides to explore the building as well.

Ha-Joon gets together a group of six people: three girls; Ah-Yeon, Charlotte, a Korean-American and Ji-Hyun, and three boys; Sung-Hoon, Seung-Wook, and Je-Yoon, for a live broadcast of their exploration of the hospital with a goal of reaching one million viewers.

The group travels to the hospital and sets up their equipment. Ha-Joon stays at their base camp off the road to control the broadcast. The rest of the group find some underwear and tie it to a tree as a marker. Upon breaking in, Charlotte pours holy water in a small Petri dish to record its reactions. In the director’s office, they find a group photo with all the patients and staff. Ji-Hyun and Charlotte explore the laboratory, where they find a doll. The team performs a ritual to ‘invite’ the spirit out but become terrified when the strings with bells that they had set up start to shake. However, it is revealed to have been staged by Seung-Wook and Sung-Hoon, unbeknownst to the other four, as a way to attract more viewers. Going back to the lab, Charlotte and Ji-Hyun are shocked to find that the doll has moved. The group discovers it is the same doll held by one of the patients in the group photo.

Je-Yoon and Ah-Yeon try to open the door to Room 402, while the other four explore the “Group Treatment Room,” seeing many strange coffins. Seung-Wook puts his hand inside a hole in a coffin and fakes his hand being pulled. However, when Ji-Hyun tries the same, her hand is actually pulled and wounded with claw-like scratches. The group, terrified, flees. Too disturbed, Ji-Hyun and Charlotte decide to leave. Ha-Joon reviews footage of all six participants standing together and becomes unsure who filmed it if all six were in the shot.

Charlotte and Ji-Hyun walk back to the base camp but end up getting caught in an illusion as they encounter the underwear marker more than once. Ji-Hyun goes into a trance and her eyes open with black sclera. Frightened, Charlotte runs back to base camp calling for Ha-Joon but finds herself back at the asylum in Room 402. Ji-Hyun is in a corner with the doll from the lab by her feet. A naked man appears in front of her and Charlotte is attacked and pulled into the darkness.

Seung-Wook and Sung-Hoon see a wheelchair pushing itself in the basement. Everything in the room begins to float, and both boys are knocked out by flying objects. Regaining consciousness, Sung-Hoon runs to Je-Yoon and Ah-Yeon, who are still drilling to open the door to 402. Suddenly, a ping-pong ball bounces towards them and Charlotte’s screaming is heard from inside 402. The infra-red cameras starts to flash as the sensor detects a presence. The door of 402 opens and the screen goes dark.

Sung-Hoon, Je-Yoon and Ah-Yeon find themselves trapped in a dark room with no exit, standing in knee-deep water. Numerous ghosts appear; the three panic until they are possessed one after the other and swallowed by the darkness. Ha-Joon, after losing contact with his team, goes to investigate and gets strangled to death.

Regaining consciousness, Seung-Wook finds himself strapped to a wheelchair. He cries out for his teammates before he is pulled into room 402.

In the epilogue, the dish of holy water starts to boil, implying its ghost-repellent effects. The live broadcast fails with viewers dropping and claiming the broadcast was fake.

Some Real Facts about : Gonjiam Haunted Asylum

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018), a 2012 CNN article listed the facility as one of the seven “freakiest places on the planet.

The hospital was closed in the 1990s and abandoned for more mundane reasons than their tall tales would have you believe. Gonjiam was forced to close mainly due to economic downturns, unsanitary conditions, and problems with the sewage disposal system, not due to insane doctors or murderous patients. As the sewage problem grew, the owner left the country and did not leave documentation behind about the land or the buildings on it. Eventually, the hospital just closed its doors and it has been abandoned ever since, unless you count the numerous tourists, camera crews, and ghost hunters who come to stroll through the area, looking for evidence of paranormal activity or the proverbial skeletons in the closets of the asylum.

The hospital is technically closed to the public and locals do not encourage tourists or give directions to the asylum willingly but roughly a thousand people break in and roam the grounds of Gonjiam Psychiatric hospital every year. The buildings stand complete with rusted out machines, hospital remnants, trash, and filthy mattresses, adding to its creepy and haunted reputation.

One character even triumphantly declares that the asylum will be the fourth location on the list she has visited. Entering once again into reality, the current (i.e. “actual”) owner of the asylum filed a lawsuit against the producers of Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018) to stop the film’s release, believing the film defamed the property. The case was quickly settled in Jung and producer Kim Won-kuk’s favor.

Although Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018) was not filmed at the actual Gonjiam Psychiatric Asylum, using another abandoned building instead, at least one Korean source states that the filming location is a faithful recreation. Sadly, no credit for set designer or art director is available, at least in English-language sources, which will become a running theme in this review. Any Korean readers are welcome to provide more information that might not be accessible to fans who don’t speak Korean.

My Personal Thoughts

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is already a runaway hit in its native South Korea and we can understand why. It has a wonderfully contemporary twist and some old school horror elements.

Also, it’s no secret that we love Korean horror movies, but this should hit home across borders. Yes, obviously they speak Korean, but there’s a character, Charlotte, who was raised in the United States.

It almost becomes a running joke, when she has to introduce herself. She always does so with a heavy American accent and you’ll find yourself referring to her character with that very same accent. Also, she’s a real badass, who has already been to various of the creepiest places on Earth,

This is just another one on her list, but (of course!) this place is the real deal. Charlotte is portrayed by Ye-Won Mun and won me over immediately. As a fan of horror-comedy, I always appreciate a certain level of humor and Korean movies tend to deliver on that. Unless they’re very dark, which Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum isn’t. It’s just really creepy at times!

For the most part, Gonjiam is a pretty well shot. Whereas a lot of found footage horror movies try to hide things with poorly lighting, shaky cam and intentionally degraded footage, Gonjiam takes the opposite approach. It’s as if director Jung Bum-shik realized that since some of its characters are professional videographers, terrible footage is not really an option. Hence, while the footage looks like it belongs to a live-stream, it never looks “terrible”. Sure, there are parts in the narrative where the camera shakes, but it’s never used to obscure the action or to create the illusion that something is happening.

With that said, that is not to say that Gonjiam doesn’t have its own problems. In a bid to make the movie look like a live stream, there are moments in the movie where common video-streaming glitches are reproduced. The most distracting example being an video delay effect that’s used liberally. Had the movie dialed back on the use of said glitch, I would have probably mentioned this as a positive.

Scenes that haunt you

A group of horror fans walks through Gonjiam, while wearing GoPro cameras and documenting everything to a live online audience. Obviously, both the viewers and participants expect some scary things will happen, so every small sound becomes a big deal.

However, it really doesn’t take long before some bigger events start taking place. Some of these scenes still haunt me now. Or rather, one particular character stayed with me for a while. It was just the creepiest moment and it works so perfectly.

The truly scary thing in Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is the fact that the producer of the online event wants these bad things to happen. He has a goal of reaching one million live viewers since this will bring in the big bucks.

Whether the people participating will survive doesn’t really matter. They knew what they were going into. Of course, so did he!

Nothing new, but something good

Even though we love Korean horror movies and have watched quite a few, we haven’t seen anything by director Beom-sik Jeong before. Of course, he is only just beginning his career, so we’ll probably get a lot more from him. Especially since Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is a huge hit in South Korea and will probably do well in the rest of the world.

It’s not that Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum is innovative or brings anything new to the genre. It’s just very well executed and keeps its audience engaged. For me, there was a bit of a lull – when it became a tad too repetitive – but overall, I really enjoyed it.

I will rate this Movie 8/10.

Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
Theatrical poster
Revised RomanizationGonjiam
Directed byJung Bum-shik
Produced byKim Won-kuk
Written byJung Bum-shik
Park Sang-min
Hive Mediacorp
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date March 28, 2018
Running time91 minutes
CountrySouth Korea
BudgetUS$2.2 million
Box officeUS$20.3 million

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