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Fantasia Review: Horror Stories

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I’m sure that Horror Stories is not actually a commentary on just how poor Korean teens are at telling scary stories. The massive logic holes and bizarre chronological failures in the various shorts are almost certainly a consequence of poor writing, poor direction, or both. To say that it’s part of some grander meta statement would be giving it far too much credit.

But I’m going to pretend, because that makes it so much more enjoyable.

[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival. Started in 1996 and based primarily in Montreal, Fantasia is widely regarded as one of the best genre film festivals in North America. To read all of our coverage, click here.]

Horror Stories (Mooseowon Iyagi | 무서운 이야기)
Directors: Jung Bum-sik, Im Dae-woong, Hong Ji-young, Kim Gok, Kim Sun, Min Kyu-dong
Rating: NR
Country: South Korea

The first few minutes of Horror Stories made me think that it would just be one of those torture-centric films I’m so done with. Ji-Won (Kim Ji-Won) is a student who has been kidnapped by some psychotic killer who has tied her up and thrown her around a bit. Great, I thought, just what I needed… but then things take a turn for the extremely weird. The kidnapper (Yoo Yeon-Seok) rips off the tape covering Ji-Won’s mouth and cuts the rope binding her hands. Apparently mute, he writes her a note apologizing and telling her she can hurt him; he even gives her his knife to do it with. She doesn’t take the opportunity (dumb), waiting for the next instruction. And it’s pretty simple: tell him a scary story, because he can’t sleep unless he’s afraid… or has recently tasted blood. 

Loathe to give up any of the red stuff, Ji-Won goes along with his request and tells him the four scariest stories she knows. It’s as strange a framing narrative as I’ve seen for an omnibus film like this, but it’s somehow the most logical part of the whole film. There’s nothing inherently dumb about any of the stories, but every single one has plot holes and narrative flaws large enough to fly a plane through. The framing narrative, ridiculous as it may be, is just a case of a character making as many bad decisions as possible. Ji-Won’s just dumb, dumb and bad at telling stories.

Beginning

“Sun and Moon” is a home invasion story with a little bit of 99%er, haves vs. have-not thrown in. Two children are home alone when a delivery man comes to drop off a package. Their mother, a wealthy businesswoman, warns them of this and tells the children not to let the man in, but please get the package. Unfortunately, the door doesn’t lock properly when they shut it. Whoops.

“Fear Plane” is the most conceptually interesting of the shorts. I can’t say I’ve seen a horror story set almost entirely a plane before (and even counting more traditional thrillers, I could probably count that on one hand), so I was marginally excited to see where it would go. A psychotic killer (notice a trend?) is being escorted by police on a private flight to somewhere. After the plane’s in the air, he gets out of his shackles (whoops) and goes on a rampage.

“Kongji, Patzzi” is about a woman who is set to be married and the step-mother/sister who conspire against her to steal her man. I’ll leave it at that, but let’s just say that going after that man was a “whoops” decision.

“Ambulance” is the only story that doesn’t fit in with reality. While the first two have minor supernatural elements, the fourth goes right over the edge into zombie territory. An ambulance picks up a mother and her daughter, who may or may not be infected. Whoops.

Fear Plane

Sarcasm aside, none of the stories are really anything special. The most impressive thing about them, really, is the fact that they all have the same kind of chronological failures. A thing happens, and then a character “wakes up” and it turns out that thing didn’t happen. Only problem is that it’s not clear which part did happen and which part didn’t. Not only that, but sometimes the entire narrative switches in the wake of a switch. This is especially problematic in the first story, where the “wake up” thing eventually leads to a completely different ending for the story that just makes the whole thing even more confusing. It’s like the narrator got to the end of the story, realized it was incomplete, and then completely backtracked and did something else instead. That’s true for all of them. It’s the least problematic in “Fear Plane,” but that doesn’t even have a resolution and has plenty of other logical flaws.

The fact that four separate stories written/directed by a number of different people have the same kind of problems is so weird. If someone had told me that they were all made by the same people trying out different horror sub-genres, I totally would have believed them. It all just fit together in a way that most omnibus films don’t. None of them stood out in any significant way, and that’s actually noteworthy. At least it was consistent… even if what it was doing consistently wasn’t particularly worthwhile.

But it’s not like any of them were terrible. They just weren’t great… or even good. They were fine, competent but not notable. I didn’t waste 108 minutes of my time watching Horror Stories, but there were better things I could have been doing.