Film Review: ‘Guimoon: The Lightless Door’ Brings Asian Horror To Another Level With Its Stylised Approach4 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
A paranormal investigator discovers a door to another world in a community centre that was once stricken by mass murder.
Director: Sim Deok-geun
Cast: Kim Kang-Woo, Kim So-Hye, Lee Jung-Hyoung, Hong Jin-Gi
Country: South Korea
Runtime: 86 mins
Train to Busan, a highly-acclaimed zombie apocalypse film grossed $93.1 million worldwide. Ever since then, the horror genre in South Korea has grown increasingly popular, with more horror films seeing the use of rather interesting techniques to subvert audience expectations. Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum uses found footage point-of-view and the set’s confined space to its advantage, heightening the fear factor in the film.
With Sim Deok-Geun’s commercial cinematic debut also comes the debut of the first South Korean film to be offered in three formats, including ScreenX which allows for multi-projection on the surrounding walls in the theatre. An up-and-coming director, Sim Deok-Geun attempts to make his name known by pushing the boundaries of his debut film, Guimoon: The Lightless Door. He sees visual storytelling as the strongest mode to tell a horror story — and effectively scare, at the same time.
When the film begins, it starts out with strong visuals and fast-paced cuts, showing glimpses of exorcism tools. As that is happening, a middle-aged female shaman is performing an exorcism outside an abandoned training centre. Nothing much is said at the start, and this style of opening on a continuous beat is effective in drawing the audience in to figure out what is happening. The escalation in the scene then turns into a standstill, as the shaman mysteriously dies in the midst of the exorcism.
The film’s inciting incident begins when the shaman’s son, Do-Jin (Kim Kang-Woo) enters the story. In an attempt to seek revenge for his mother’s mysterious death, he aims to investigate the training centre, notorious for a series of murders executed by the building’s manager. However, there is a stake: the door in the training centre is actually a magic space between the living and the dead, where the victims are still stuck inside.
In order to heighten the eerie feeling, the film is shot in an actual abandoned training centre, utilising most of the items left behind as props in the film. The authenticity isn’t just left for the set design — it is also impactful for Kang-Woo’s acting. Having to act alone most of the time, he is able to welcome his own fear for his performance in the film.
With that being said, Do-Jin’s narrative starts to come into play with another group in the film. As the magic door starts to take effect, three groups of college students on the other side of the door attempt to enter the training centre to shoot a video for a competition. This leads to unexpected events, as they slowly start to cross over to Do-Jin’s side. This intertwining storyline is rarely seen in horror movies, where singular perspective is dominant. However, this is effective in Guimoon, especially when different modes of cinematography are employed to help differentiate the two events.
There is much praise for Guimoon’s sound design as well. In most horror films, sound design is used to build up to the eventual jump scares in the film. On the other hand, sound design in Guimoon is intensively used to prioritise its world-building rather than for its jump scares. This is refreshing to see — and hear — in a horror film, as it allows the audience to feel like they are venturing the same place Do-Jin is. Although, a slight mishandling could be seen towards the end of the film when the narratives get a little bit too jumbled.
The antagonist’s role comes up to be slightly underwhelming towards the end, resorting to forced horror cliches which may have been disappointing considering the impressive first half of the film. The editing pace is slightly altered as well, as the audience is left with rapid cuts back and forth that might have been too distracting to absorb. While that may have worked for the beginning of the film, it only creates confusion as a resolution.
Nevertheless, Guimoon is a relatively immersive experience for a horror film. Using a stylised approach with its unique cinematographic style as well as cleverly incorporated sound design to heighten the viewer’s experience, Sim Deok-Geun’s debut film Guimoon: The Lightless Door is certainly something you don’t want to miss.
Guimoon: The Lightless Door opens in theatres islandwide tomorrow, 25 September.