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Black House [Import]
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Inside the walls... beneath the floors... underneath the stairs... lies unspeakable horror. A strange call leads an insurance investigator to a rundown house where he discovers gruesome secrets - beginning with the body of an apparent suicide victim. The more he learns, the more the terror escalates, climaxing to an unforgettable and blood-soaked ending. Brace yourself and enter into the Black House, the most terrifying structure ever built.
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A meek and nerdy young man named Jeon Juno (Hwang Jeong-Min) is an insurance claims adjuster who gets assigned to visit an old dilapidated house. He stumbles upon a "purported" suicide by a seven year old boy who has been insured for $ 30 million Won. After witnessing the supposed "suicide", Juno suspects foul play, since he had recently received a phone call a few days before asking him if the insurance company pays out the coverage in the event of a suicide. He gets harassed by the child's stepfather; Bae Doong Park ( Kang Shin Il) who comes to the office everyday until the insurance money gets paid out. `
Juno resolves to investigate the boy's parents and seek the truth about a potential insurance fraud by a psychotic scam artist. As Juno digs deeper into the case, he finds himself more involved than he wanted to, and the more Juno finds out, the more the terror mounts. Juno's life will be changed forever...
"Black House" is a thrilling attempt by South Korea to escape the usual horror fare that have mostly been "Ringu" and "Ju-On" rip-offs and tries something different. The film does have the right moody atmosphere, style and the touch of creepiness that have made Asian horror very famous. However, this film feels more like a Hollywood film, while it does give its central focus on Juno's amateurish investigations and the usual Police denials, the film relies a lot on blood and gore to emulate terror. The very mood and set designs are reminiscent of the Saw and Hostel franchises, decapitated limbs are on display that the antagonist's lair almost looks like Leatherface's lair in "Texas Chainsaw Massacre".
In addition to the style, the movie also succeeds in suggesting the terror of psychotic manipulation by a most unlikely suspect. The true "horror" of the film is that folks can be manipulated in performing obscene acts of violence on themselves. It expresses the message that psychopaths are everywhere and they look like regular folks. Psychopaths are emotionless individuals who are a danger to themselves or to others. Although truth be told, experienced movie watchers will figure out the mystery halfway through the film; the killings and the gore factor will keep you interested as the film evolves into a "slasher" film. It all depends on how you view the situation since the film feels a bit overstretched on some scenes, that it may either entertain or bore you.
The strongest asset of the film is the cast; Hwang Jeong-Min gives a near-flawless performance as the nerdy Jeon Juno. The actor portrays his role with convincing charisma that I did wonder how a nerdy character can have a great looking girlfriend. Juno's character seemed a repressed and geeky individual who looks like someone who won't be able to tie his shoelaces, but at the same time smart and noble, with a "do-gooder" attitude. Kang Shin Il gives a very creepy and unsettling performance as Bae, the man can give Shinya Tsukamoto (Marebito) a run for his money when it comes to portraying a delusional and disturbed human being. Yoo-Seon plays the boy's mother, Shin Yi-Hwa. Yoo-seon can definitely charm the viewer into feeling pity and empathy towards her character.
Overall, while "Black House" does have its share of weaknesses from its overlong investigations, the survival skills of the antagonist seemed a bit over-the-top, its thematic preoccupations about psychopaths and its overstretched finale; the film is satisfying enough to be an involving thriller. There are enough complexities in its plot and misdirection that kept my interest for the most part that overshadowed the usual "cat and mouse" game and the usual sympathetic protagonist against the cold-blooded killer. There are some hidden surprises that saved the film that I would give this film a timid recommendation.
Recommended with caution, Rent it first [3 ½- Stars]
Geomeun Jip, released in English-speaking countries as Black House, is another of those films from southeast Asia that's been mismarketed as a horror film on this side of the pond, and has alienated both the horror market and its actual market (this is a mystery film) as a result. Distribution companies, when are you going to learn this lesson? I've seen at least a dozen southeast Asian films in the past five years that, had they been marketed correctly, would likely have been hits. While I'm not sure this is one of them--I didn't seem to like it quite as much as other reviewers who didn't go into it expecting Yet Another Southeast Asian Horror Film--I think it would have done far better than it actually has.
Plot: an insurance agent, Jun-oh (You Are My Sunshine's Jeong-min Hwang),is at a client's house dealing with an unrelated issue when the client's son commits suicide--or so it seems. The more Jun-oh investigates, the fishier the "suicide" seems, and he beings to wonder if he's being set up by the boy's father (Public Enemy's Shin-il Kang); did the father actually kill the boy in order to collect on the insurance?
It's a pretty standard mystery setup, albeit a well-acted and well-presented one, and you will not regret spending an hour and a half on this one if you're a mystery fan. But I kept thinking that if they'd considered pushing the envelope a little here and there, this movie really could have taken off--an innovative camera angle here or interesting use of color there or one really memorable minor character or... you get the idea. America, as a society, is so inundated with mystery shows that it felt, at times, like this was a feature-length episode of CSI: Seoul. Which is far more a criticism of American culture than it is of Black House, but it's something to be considered if you're an American viewer dialing this one up. ***
I enjoyed the story in Black House. The first half of the film is a dark and tense mystery; did the boy commit suicide, or was he murdered? The second half of the film is a suspenseful thriller, which I also enjoyed. It packs a surprising twist, as well. The film is especially gripping because of the villain's performance; it's the type of performance that can infuriate you because of how well-done these sinister characters and performances are. The ending is disappointing, though; it leaves many unanswered questions, it is unbelievable, and illogical (I don't want to spoil it, but some actions, or lack of action, will leave you shaking your head) The film has great acting, a dark and gritty storyline (except the ending), great music, and some solid special effects.
Overall, Black House is a creepy and tense mystery-thriller with great performances. I recommend a purchase for fans of the genre and South Korean films, a rental otherwise.
Black House has some strong violence and gore.
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