Ji-Won is a young journalist who has recently busted a child sex-abuse ring containing various high profiled businessmen. After receiving death threats on her phone, being stalked and getting obscenely graphic emails that depict her mutilated image, she decides to change her phone number and move into a new place. That new place is the holiday home of her close friend Ho-Jeong and rich husband Chang. Just when she begins to get settled in and thinks her life is back to normal, you’ve guessed it, she gets another disturbing phone call. Around this time Ji-Won also begins to have visions that may or may not pertain to another young girls life. As if things couldn’t get worse, Ho-Jeong’s young daughter Yeong-Ju starts to behave menacingly after she answers a call on Ji-Won’s phone. Things start to get kinda creepy right about now. Especially when a doctor explains that Yeong-Ju is beginning to garner sexual feelings towards her father. Ok…
It goes without saying that Asia generally provides us all with compelling, extremely original and frankly terrifying horror movies. About 10 years ago, one out of every two horror movies that came out of the U.S was basically either a remake or based on Asian originals and even though the remakes have died down a little much of the Eastern influence can still be seen in contemporary horrors. While Phone doesn’t ever reach the scare factor heights of Ringu or equals the gut wrenching tension of Audition, it does throw up some genuinely shocking moments without ever really transcending into the typical Asia Extreme Horror category. It’s really just a simple ghost story.
After a slow and fairly confusing start, Phone begins to take shape after Yeong-Ju turns into psycho girl and is admitted to a child psychologist. This is when I started to put two and two together and it all sort of fell into place. Despite the predictable nature of the story, there are some decent twists towards the end and the final revelation did just about make it worthy of watching. Most of the second half of the movie is a combination of Ji-Won trying to find out what is happening and us, the viewers, actually finding out what did happen via flashbacks. I’m always a fan of this type of film-making but the flashbacks did seem to go for a long time and kind of took the tension out of the reveals. Might’ve been a better idea keeping the flashbacks shorter and jumping back and forth more often. Also, the constant ringing of the phone is so annoying, but I guess I should’ve expected that.
But was this horror movie actually scary?
Well yes… and no. Most of the early jumps are basically just the same scare told or shown in a slightly different way. Ji-Won sees a reflection in a mirror, or catches a shape in a window. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff here but it does enough to keep you hooked to see what happens. There are a few stand out scenes and they all contain the little girl Yeong-Ju, played marvellously by Seo-Woo Eun (she was only 6 at the time). She’s got one of those sunshine smiles that immediately lights up a room but when she’s angry, she turns into demon-child. Her performance is never overdone like so many other child actors, she really is believable here. Seriously though, is there anyone out there who isn’t frightened of creepy young girls?
If you’ve seen Hideo Nakata’s widely successful Japanese fright-fests Ringu or Dark Water then Phone probably won’t do much for you. But if you are one of the few that haven’t been blessed by many of Japan or Korea’s horror classics then this isn’t such a bad place to start. It’s certainly the kind of movie that will ease you in to that particular genre.
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter