When a solitary young woman discovers she’s actually a ghost, it is the impetus she needs to finally find some semblance of meaning or sense of purpose in her (now over) life in Yu Eun-jeong’s feature debut, Ghost Walk, a welcome female voice examining feminine malaise and disenchantment in modern Korea. The understated horror trend is apparently spreading around the world, and a stop in Korea, where unsettled and unsettling specters are dead serious, is a match made in heaven, given added relevance by writer-director Yu’s unwavering perspective. The film, and Yu, deserves a long life on the festival circuit, and one outside of genre fests.
Beginning at Chuseok, one of the biggest holidays of the year in Korea and also one where families come together to pay respects to the dead, the pic introduces Hye-jeong (Han Hae-in), an aimless young woman with no ambition and dreadful social skills, largely by choice. She’s cut off ties with her family and actively avoids any kind of emotional entanglements. She works a dead-end job in a textile factory in an anonymous small city and can’t even be bothered to try and kindly reject a sweet co-worker, Min-seong (Lee Seung-chan), when he expresses an romantic interest in her. Her roommates are two sisters, Ji-yeon (Lee Ja-min) and Hyo-yeon (Jeon So-nee), as well as Mi-suk (Choi Sol-hui), all so self-involved they barely register she’s there until they need money or she’s dead. Hye-jeong is so detached that when she encounters a little girl, Su-yang (Gam So-hyun), pleading for help in a dark alley, she scuttles away rather than stop to ask what’s wrong. When it becomes clear she’s become the victim of a homicide, Hye-jeong revisits the last few days of her life and discovers not only some painful secrets her roommates were harboring, but also her own humanity.
You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
Deliberately paced and meticulously plotted, Ghost Walk kind of gets lost in its own overly complicated narrative in the last act: There’s a contrived connection between the sisters, Su-yang and another dead body, that of skeevy loan shark Gwang-sik (Lee Young-soo), but not so much so that it obscures the authentic and moving horror-drama that preceded it. As Hye-jeong, Han is appropriately dead-eyed and soulless, making her redemption never completely a sure thing, and Hye-jeong’s turnaround, in the actress’ hands, is believable rather than contrived; too many catharses in psychological horror feel unearned. She sparks to life when she realizes Su-yang is also dead, and that she may be able to alter her fate. The vaguely mother-daughter connection they make feels organic, and bittersweet only for the realizations Hye-jeong makes about herself and her regrets coming too late.
Clever editing and some basic but totally effective in-camera special effects mask the film’s low budget, and there’s a nicely nuanced score by Kwun Hyun-jeong that doesn’t feel the need to aggressively signal every emotional beat. Through it all, Yu demonstrates an admirable level of restraint given the ghostly material, and only a woman would create a female detective with such practical hair and shoes, and dearth of time-consuming impeccably applied makeup. Bless.
Production company: Rhythm and Blues
Cast: Han Hae-in, Gam So-hyun, Jeon So-nee, Lee Ja-min, Lee Seung-chan, Lee Young-soo, Choi Sol-hui
Director-screenwriter: Yu Eun-jeong
Producer: Jo Sung-hun
Director of photography: Lee Ju-hwan
Production designer: Yu Young-jung
Costume designer: Na Ga-yeo
Editor: Lee Young-lim
Music: Kwun Hyun-jeong
World sales: Mirovision