Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum ★★★★

Oftentimes, found footage horror films bank on the very thing that they should be avoiding: cheap scares. While this could work, the films that do rely on those solely turn out to be lackluster or plain terrible. That's why it's very much vital for a found footage horror film to know what it should establish firmly first before setting off what it deems to be a jaw-dropping series of fun scares. South Korean cinema really knows how to come through, as GONJIAM: HAUNTED ASYLUM is actually quite solid and should prove skeptics wrong that the horror subgenre can never be reinvigorated ever again. South Korean filmmakers really do know how to make kickass films, don't they?

While it may still borrow from American found footage horror filmmaking such as the iconic 'The Blair Witch Project', it still ends up becoming its own thing large in part because of how . Director Jung Bum-shik ensures a bond between his film and the audience, and it's a bond that actually gets us to care about what's happening as the setting's horrifying presence towers over us. Usually in films like this, we anticipate the scares and nothing else. But here, it seems like our empathy is being called upon because of how he illustrates his characters –– giving us people to root for and people to despise.

Bum-shik orchestrates the mayhem deftly too, almost but not really so in the style of James Wan where he relies on perfect timing for our fear to consume us. There are little to no moments of stagnation as well. It's almost as if every time the film slows down, it's building up to something. The thing is though, we never know what it's building since the first and second act are thrillingly deceptive. How deceptive they could get though, is just too exhilarating and smart to be described in such a review as it's a trick that really plays with our mind once it creeps on us.

Why that happens so is because of how Bum-shik utilizes the atmosphere. This is something not most found footage horror films struggle to do, but for Bum-shik it seems to be a cakewalk as him being knowledgable in how to make it terrifying pretty much guarantees a sense of authenticity to this film of his. Him using sound design and acting to create a looming sense of dread is just remarkable. So much so that he manages to make the entire third act an unforgettably perturbing, visceral combination of sights and sounds that immerse you further into the freaky spaces of the Gonjiam Asylum.

With all of the goods that it serves to horror junkies, this film should rightfully stand as one of the more exemplary figures that found footage horror films should look up to. Granted, it's not really the most original one around but its creativity in craft is still undeniable that it's astonishingly tasteful. It has style but more importantly it also has substance as its entirety also serves as effective, virtually resonant commentary about the YouTube generation and what greed can do to those consumed by it. It almost plays out like a cautionary tale, really. Best seen in the haunting hours of midnight, Jung Bum-shik's found footage horror shan't be refused. It's really something else because of the Asian textures that American horror can't just emulate.