Yoon Een-kyoung’s haunted house chiller falls short of its K-horror expectations.
When Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite swept the Oscars this year (remember when there was an Oscars telecast this same calendar year?) one could make a case that Korean horror finally broke through with American audiences. Parasite may not fall into the horror category like, say, Train to Busan does, but there are some truly horrific moments.
The mixture of genres, creeping dread, and social commentary in Bong’s masterpiece are also elements found in the best that K-Horror has to offer. Let’s also not forget the lush production design and pristine cinematography that has influenced American horror cinema. It’s hard to watch the darkly lit interior of the house in Hereditary and not be reminded of the similarly spooky house in A Tale of Two Sisters, for one example.
The point is, South Korea has much to offer in the horror genre, but Shudder’s Lingering is definitely not one of them. It has the essential components but comes off more like a cosplay of what a K-Horror film should be rather than being anything substantial.
The film begins intriguingly enough: A woman, covered in blood, slowly walks down a dark road. The unsettling score, just an out of tune violin screeching like a dying cat, plays in the background. We then cut to our protagonist, Yoo-mi (Se-yeong Lee) picking up her half-sister, Yoon Ji-yoo (So-yi Park) from a local orphanage. Their mother has mysteriously passed away, and the fathers are not in the picture, leaving Yoo-mi to be the guardian.
The problem is that Yoo-mi, struggling with depression and her own traumas, wants nothing to do with her half-sister. Her solution is to bring Yoon to a hotel their mother used to work at, owned by their mother’s friend, Gyeong-seon (Ji-Young Park). Yoo-mi desperately wants Gyeong to take in Yoon, but she quickly finds out the hotel has deadly secrets, and ghostly inhabitants.
The design of the hotel itself has an eerie power to it. The exterior has a bland, industrial vibe, but the interior has the traditional haunted house look with dark rooms and lavish furniture so dusty you can smell it from your couch. The problem is the location is a waste of space.
First-time writer/director Yoon Een-kyoung never gets a handle on how to build up to frights, or how to write characters in which we can invest.
I was confused at first about why Shudder changed the name of the film from the original title, Hotel Lake, but by the end I realized that if there were no exterior shots, I would have just assumed this was set in a big creepy house. The characters only seem to use three rooms in the whole place anyway, plus a basement that’s too dark to see anything.
It takes place during the off season, so there’s no guests, which is convenient for the film, but also makes me question the point of it all since we never get that dreadful feeling of how empty and huge it is like with the Overlook in The Shining. It’s just a place with a bunch of rooms that are never even utilized.
First-time writer/director Yoon Een-kyoung never gets a handle on how to build up to frights, or how to write characters in which we can invest. Instead, he throws a bunch of scary images and scenes at the wall, few of them sticking. There’s one truly scary moment early on that takes place on the side of a road in broad daylight that would make Ari Aster say “Hell yeah!”. But besides that, the random shadowy ghosts, weird liquids coming from the ceiling, and bloody acts of violence are just retreads from better horror films.
As the film progresses, we learn more about Yoo-mi and Yoon’s mother, and it slowly turns into a supernatural murder mystery, with themes of grief and how we deal with the shadow of our parents’ mental health as much as our own. However, by the time we get there, even the movie seems checked out for good.
It also just gets genuinely confusing. At one point little Yoon disappears, but no one seems too bothered by it. There’s also a young boy that Yoo-mi befriends who wears an eye patch and can apparently talk to ghosts? He comes and goes within two scenes, with no real explanation.
Lingering is a disappointment not only for K-Horror, but also for scary movies set in hotels. You might have more fun with just booking a haunted AirBnB and seeing what happens.
Lingering haunts your TV screen on Shudder November 12th.