New movies for me
Hidden Floor (aka: Forbidden Floor/Fourth Floor) is the second of the Four Horror Tales project that I've seen, alongside the frustrating Dark Forest of Death. Again, I received this one as a freebie and, after seeing Dark Forest of Death, I had very low expectations for Hidden Floor, which turned out to its benefit, as the film actually works just fine from start to finish. It tells its story without major plot holes and manages to throw in some cheap scares and ghastly imagery on its way, but it's as simple a ghost story as you can manage and while it benefits from not having any major problems with the story, it also lacks distinctiveness as well as anything beyond the genre workings of a ghost story, which leaves it merely an adequate and average ghost film. But, I suppose in the world of horror films, adequate is actually an impressive thing to pull off.
Basically, a single mother, architect Chae Minyoung (Kim Suhhyoung) and her daughter Juhee (Kim Yoojung) move into a new officetel (a Korean style studio that can be worked or lived in) to the fifth floor. Like several buildings in Korea and China, this building lacks a fourth floor, as the SinoKorean character for four resembles the same one for "death". Anyway, as they move in, some rather creepy sounds and sights start appearing as well as a string of mysterious deaths and finally all this starts affecting the behavior and health of young Juhee.
In some ways, this is almost an homage to project creator An Byungki's horror hit Phone, especially as it involves a seemingly and actually possessed child, but thematically, it's a much simpler affair and while it deals ever so lightly with the cost of development on human lives and relationships, as seen through the tension that Minyoung's architecture job has on her relationship with Juhee as well as how the mystery of the ghost on the theoretically non-existent fourth floor fits into the story, the majority of the film really just follows the mystery of the ghost(s) that kills off a number of people in the apartment and Minyoung's struggle with that, her daughter and her job. On the plus side, since it's a rather uncomplicated story, there's not much that goes wrong with the story and the little absences in explanation are easily handwaved as unnecessary, given the supernatural element of the story. For not once breaking my suspension of disbelief because of some uncharacteristically stupid behavior, implausible backstory, or inane story twists, Hidden Floor was surprisingly easy to watch from start to finish. It might not have the interesting thematic exploration like some of the Whispering Corridors films nor have clever twists and psychological meditations like A Tale of Two Sisters, but like its inspiration, Phone, it manages to pull off a serviceable horror film with a tiny bit of mystery involved and in a genre full of frustratingly intolerable films, that is impressive, if not commendable.
Rookie writer-director Kwon Ilsoon does manage to put some stylistic touches on his films, especially as the mystery rolls along, but even then, there's really nothing we see in Hidden Floor that we haven't seen before. On the plus side, it isn't riddled with distracting or overly flashy attempts at distinguishing itself and keeps the focus on the story. Granted, the director goes for more than a few cheap scares and the ghost itself doesn't quite have the freakout factor, either because we've seen this ghost several dozen times already or perhaps because the director doesn't quite know how to handle shooting it, preferring to clip together short, difficult to distinguish cuts. In terms of cinematography, like Dark Forest of Death, Hidden Floor is dark and murky and while it might be the poor DVD transfer from Hong Kong's Winson Entertainment, it was often too dark to really distinguish what I was supposed to be seeing at times. As far as the acting goes, everyone contributed fairly well (although the druggie neighbor was probably played too broadly) and the film definitely benefits from the presence of a surprisingly capable child actor, but the film isn't really an actor's showcase. Still, the drama between Minyoung and Juhee is believable, which again, helps the film retain its audience through its course. Finally, although sound is important in the film, the sound field is perhaps a touch overused and feels a little cheap when you're constantly prepared for a shock by sound effects.
If you're looking for a low-concept horror film that goes from start to finish without having any seriously exasperating moments of unbelief, Hidden Floor will do. Hidden Floor doesn't impress by what it does right, but by what it doesn't do wrong. It's logically consistent where it matters, has a few scares and grotesque imagery and includes a slight story about a relationship between mother and daughter as well as a mystery that revolves around a ghost, which, yes, has a reason for its grudge. It's got an indie feel in the production and direction and at times, it might be a little rough, especially in its lighting choices, but there's nothing too distracting there either. And for all that, it stands surprisingly above much of the genre. But there's nothing compelling about Hidden Floor and so it's not a film I can say *should* be seen. However, if find yourself drawn to horror films and continue to be disappointed by the implausible moments in the films, this is one that might not impress you, but at least it won't frustrate you. And that's worth... something. 6/10.