Asian horror films’ obsession with gaunt female ghouls and their face-obscuring stringy black hair persists in Epitaph, a Korean ghost story that alternates between being confusing and dim. As evidenced by their debut feature, director siblings Jung Bum-Sik and Jung Sik are assiduous students of J-horror tropes, as their saga about the spooky goings-on at a hospital in 1942 is chockablock with the usual scare tactics—most of which come via pale-faced lady phantoms with crazy eyes, mouths frozen open, bad clothes, and even worse posture—and some strange, squishy romantic undercurrents. In this intertwined three-part tale, a fledging doctor betrothed to the daughter of the hospital’s director falls for a suicide victim’s corpse, a gimpy physician attempts to psychologically heal a girl who lost her family in a car accident, and a brilliant neurosurgeon contends with a wife who has no shadow. Strident strings ripped wholesale from Psycho punctuate most of the story’s shocks, derivation that finds its complement in the filmmakers’ standard-issue languorous camerawork and sharp editorial cuts to creepy faces. Instead of J-horror’s unsettling irrationality, here there’s only disorder marked by the absence of a consistent tone and plenty of incomprehensible imagery, such as the legion of snails whose primary intention seems to be providing a visual metaphor for the proceedings’ sluggish pace. The Jung brothers craft a suitably ominous mood, but also a perplexing scattershot narrative that’s apparently about the way in which ghosts and the afterlife are means by which people cope with loss, guilt, and loneliness. Mostly, though, Epitaph—with its jumbled chronology, dull repetitions, corny otherworldly melodrama, and general lack of imagination—is about the way an initially promising genre cannibalizes itself until there’s nothing left except the tattered remains of once-effective conventions and the rapidly fading memories of superior scares gone by.
- 98 min
- Jung Bum-Sik, Jung Sik
- Jung Bum-Sik, Jung Sik
- Kim Tae-Woo, Kim Bo-Kyung, Lee Dong-Kyu, Jin Goo
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