Saturday, July 18, 2009

K-Horror: Hidden Floor

Hidden Floor
Directed by Kwon Il-Soon
Pathfinder Home Entertainment

A little girl is threatened by an angry spirit with mussed up hair. A disturbing image? That is what Korean K-Horror is all about. Like their Japanese J-Horror cousins, K-Horror films can really get under your skin with their unsettling visuals and the recurring child-in-jeopardy motifs. Such is certainly the case in Kwon Il-Soon’s Hidden Floor (trailer here), now available on DVD.

Single mother Chae Min-young and her daughter Juhee have just moved into a new apartment. It is converted modern office building, so it should not have much psychic baggage, right? While it might not be built on a Native graveyard, there is still a weird vibe to the place. As is common practice, it also lacks a fourth floor, due to tetraphobia stemming from the similarity between the Chinese words for “four” and “death.” Juhee and her mother have moved into apartment #504. Of course, it is easy to do the math and figure they really live in #404. This might be significant.

Their neighbors also happen to be a little anti-social, bordering on the unstable. However, some of the more unsavory ones start to turn up dead in what might be considered mysterious circumstances. Much to her mother’s alarm, young Suhee does not seem to be herself either, exhibiting strange mood swings and skin outbreaks. Something is definitely wrong on the not-the-fourth floor.

Horror films are always scariest when they imply rather than show, and this is particularly true in the case of Hidden. It is downright creepy when Min-young listens to mysterious sounds coming up through the floor boards or sneaks down shadowing stairwells. Yet, when the entity in question finally shows itself, it is nowhere near as effective.

In a sense, the K-Horror/J-Horror formulae are almost cheating, because it is impossible to see a little girl like Juhee in mortal peril and not feel the desired response. As Min-young, Kim Suh-Hyung is a believable single-mother and a sympathetic rooting interest. Her earnestness and the surprisingly compelling screen presence of Kim Yu-Jung as Juhee inspire an emotional investment in the film on the part of the audience, despite its liberal recycling of many familiar horror tropes.

While Hidden might not break any new ground in the K-Horror genre, it still delivers a good number of chills, capitalizing on the austere atmosphere of the cursed apartment building. By American horror film standards, the violence is not that graphic, but the woman-in-jeopardy and child-in-jeopardy scenes are sure to disturb some viewers. Thanks to its two lead performances, Hidden is a reasonably successful little chiller that ought to be pleasantly diverting for genre enthusiasts.