Saturday, August 29, 2009

K-Horror: My Bloody Roommates

Despite its English title, Kim Eun-Kyung’s contribution to One Day Suddenly: 4 Horror Tales, a quartet of k-horror films based on the novels of Yoo Il-Han, is not a slasher movie. However, it certainly features many of the universal elements of the dead-teenager horror film, like its isolated private school setting—in this case an all-girls prep school (so much the better). Though relatively restrained with its blood splattering, Kim wrings plenty of apprehension and angst out of the academic pressure cooker environment in My Bloody Roommates (also known as D-Day, trailer here) now available on DVD.

The Younghwa Academy is the last chance for girls who failed their university entrance exams. As the principal explains in their promotional video, if you can survive a year with them “you’re already half successful.” Still, the emphasis she places on the presence of their school nurse might seem a little odd. As it turns out, Younghwa was rebuilt three years ago following a tragic fire which killed the entire student body. Evidently though, there were no lessons to be learned from this incident, as the faculty prepares to lock in the incoming class for 312 days of academic boot camp.

Since everything is regimented at Younghwa by test score, Eun-Su is number one. She actually passed her college boards, but not at a level high enough to satisfy her perfectionist family. In contrast, her roommates start out much lower in the academic pecking order. Yoo-Jin is a rebellious child of privilege obviously on a collision course with the school’s strict code of discipline. Bespectacled Da-Young is socially awkward, but well-meaning, while the sensitive Bo-Ram supplies the film’s intermittent narration.

Even with its supernatural overtones, Roommates is more of a creepy drama than a shocking fright flick. Its depiction of students breaking under pressure and ultimately succumbing to madness (or something even worse) is surprisingly chilling. The underdog kids versus the Dean of Mean storyline might even inspire some viewers to start humming a little bit of The Wall.

Overall, the cast is quite solid, with particularly strong performances coming from Kim Ri-Na, who shows considerable range as Eun-Su, and the deliberately geeked-down Heo Jin-Yong as the touchingly innocent Da-Young. Kim makes effective use of the claustrophobic atmosphere and the countdown to D-Day, the date of the university exams, maintains the tension reasonably well. Unfortunately, it all falls apart at the end with a typical horror movie conclusion and a total downer of a denouement.

Roommates legitimately exceeds expectations, but it is still probably not a film for multiplex audiences. Still, somewhat more adventurous viewers, especially devotees of Asian genre cinema, will find it a pleasing DVD experience and make note of its talented up-and-coming cast.