The Korean-made GONJIAM suffers from none of the classic issues of found footage. The characters are not insufferable, the setup is, by its nature, never boring and the continuous filming is entirely justified.
Seven twenty-somethings travel to ‘the most haunted building in Korea’ to live-stream footage for a YouTube channel, “Haunted Times.” Jeong Beom-sik aims to attract as many views as possible in order to earn ad revenue. The tech he gives his crew is impressive, including motion-activated cameras, a drone, and personal cameras, which – strapped to the chest of each crewmember – record both their point of view and their facial reactions. And just in case the ghosts don’t show up, the director has a few tricks up his sleeve.
The most intriguing thing about GONJIAM is something it has in common with CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST – an interest in the exploitative side of filmmaking. What (or who) are you prepared to sacrifice to get the footage? How far is too far? But despite a strong beginning, this tantalising idea fades away under the sheer bulk of supernatural grue that dominates the third act. GONJIAM is an all-singing all-dancing bag of horror tropes – and while it’s very entertaining, not much of it is original. It lifts the long-black-hair ghost from works like RINGU, time/reality manipulation from THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and black-eyed demon possession from, well, everywhere. More disappointingly, the hi-tech elements such as the motion capture camera and the drone never pay off, despite their setup.
“…despite a muddled ending, GONJIAM is good fun, and proves that the found footage ‘genre’ is just as alive as the rest of horror cinema (or at least, no less dead).”
Ironically the most effective scene (which owes a great debt to the finale of [REC]) is very stripped down, featuring one character with nothing but a torch mounted POV camera, alone in the dark. Of course, she’s not actually alone. It’s a heart-stopping sequence, alternating between her narrow illuminated viewpoint and the terror in her eyes as she searches desperately for an escape. At this point most viewers will be biting their nails with fear. Unfortunately, they will then have to sit through the rest of the third act. Having blown their load with [REC]-like heights of hysteria, the filmmakers then proceed to throw every other horror-film ending at you in the hope that something will stick – with the result that the film finishes rather like a damp squib, leaving us in the dark with unfulfilled expectations.
But despite a muddled ending, GONJIAM is good fun, and proves that the found footage ‘genre’ is just as alive as the rest of horror cinema (or at least, no less dead). If you haven’t seen [REC] or THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT it may even impress and surprise you. Its worst sin is that its more interesting ideas disappear in amongst the third-act carnage.