When two young boys go missing exploring the famously spooky Gonjiam Asylum whilst trying to open the never-been-opened Room 402 (and have recorded it and uploaded it to YouTube) it inspires the host of Horror Times, a ghost and paranormal hunting/investigation program, to look into this place and its history. And organise his next show.
Gonjiam was a highly respected Mental asylum, but the stories of the mass suicide of the patients and the often repeated fact that the director of the asylum has never been found leave a huge air of mystery and fear surrounding the place. These days it is closed down and abandoned. So not at all prime location for a haunted-house style investigation then!
The style of this is pretty much found footage with a few interesting tweaks. All of the hunters are wearing GoPro cameras utilising a front facing and an away facing camera connected to each person to give an intense and personal look to the proceedings. The crew of hunters is made up of the regulars from the show plus some extras who have applied/agreed to go along with them to investigate for impartiality. They begin by having a drinking session to get to know each other before setting off for the eventual location.
Setting up a base camp tent in the grounds of the asylum and they set up all their broadcasting kit: Multi-screen monitors, food, supplies etc alongside some preparation within the asylum itself such as CCTV cameras and motion detection, the usual ghost hunting devices.
Performing a ritual to attract some supernatural entities in the area starts off the string of events, although, externally it is all for show as they set this up to give the viewers what they want to see and to boost their numbers. However, there are things that begin to change and happen from this point onwards that aren’t under their control. Relentlessly controlled by Ha-joon (Wi Ha-joon) stationed in the control tent, pushing the others on to complete the mission, to investigate deeper or put people into danger all for the cause of raising the numbers of viewers and potential advertising revenue.
The nod to the ghost hunter style TV shows is superbly done, sending them up to perfectly. Staring into the camera and earnestly telling the tale of whatever they have just “discovered”.
The GoPro-in-your-face style really harkens back to the, now famous, scenes from The Blair Witch Project with Heather crying into the camera as weird shit happens all around her. This is no different as you get multiple shots of people staring off towards something you can’t see and their face changing in reaction. And then screaming into them as the camera can’t escape from the situation and neither can the viewer. And, with the most effective scare of the film for me, this is utilised really, really well.
With a slow build towards the inevitable crazy finish it all works really well. I don’t think that anyone watching this film wouldn’t be expecting the ending to result in something nasty. Yes, found footage has been done to death, using many different genres and tropes, but horror works the best, especially in conjunction with the tongue in cheek parallel of the TV shows in Gonjiam Haunted Asylum.
With echos of Grave Encounters, another found footage horror film that utilises the style of a TV show investigating paranormal events, Gonjiam is a welcome entry to this genre. It feels fresh and interesting even if all the usual tropes are present, they are done in an interesting way that keeps you wondering what will happen next.