Actress Lee Se-young performs during, "444," one of the four episodes in the omnibus film "Horror Stories 2." The movie was released nationwide on June 5. / Korea Times file
Contrived ‘Horror Stories 2' is major letdown of a sequel
By Jung Min-ho
"Horror Stories,'' last year's sleeper hit in the summer box office, restored hopes for Korea's faltering horror movie genre, which hadn't seen above-average work since 2003's "A Tale of Two Sisters.'' So the sequel was highly anticipated. And it is highly disappointing.
''Horror Stories 2'' falls into the same predictable traps that doomed so many other sequels: it synthetically mimicked what made the first movie successful and ended up depending on jump scares and surprises without giving the plot and characters room to develop.
The filmmakers have "Horror Stories 3'' in the pipeline, but the second movie did nothing to generate excitement for it, being a predictable and poorly-executed version of the first movie.
The omnibus film, which consists of four episodes, begins with a conversation between insurance company employees Park and Yoon, who has a special power that enables him to communicate with dead people. At a late night storage room, Park picks three doubtful cases for insurance fraud and asks Yoon to tell him what exactly happened.
The first episode, "The Cliff," is about two friends who luckily survived falling from a cliff but ended up on a protruding rock just below. While waiting to be rescued, their friendship soon breaks apart because of one candy bar they have.
The first problem with the story is that the burgeoning hatred is too flat to generate audience empathy. After the falling, the friends started to hate each other without any clear cause. The awkward quarrel over sugar could also bother some commonsensical viewers who know that a lack of water kills people before malnutrition.
With the story already well-known because it is based on Oh Seung-dae's famous Internet cartoon, director Kim Seong-ho failed to scare the audience any further than the original piece did with clichéd sound effects and performances from two novice actors.
The second episode, "The Pain of Death," is about three women who have a car accident at night. When the car breaks down, they decide to walk toward a dim light coming from a mountain.
From beginning to end, this story is nothing more than regurgitating a familiar old story that has already been sold too many times; there is no original twist. With funny-looking zombies and predictable ending, to put it as charitably as possible, this version is not scarier than any of others.
The third episode, "Escape," is probably the only fresh story in the film. It is about a student teacher who wants to return to the human world from the world of monsters. With some black comedy mixed in a dynamic story flow, the movie finally began to grab fatigued audience's attention. And yet, the story is funny but not scary.
Besides, it is a nice independent story but it doesn't seem to blend with the rest of the film like a showy flower in a desert.
The movie has one more "surprise" about Yoon at the end. This abrupt twist makes the final episode, "444," nothing more than just a lame closer.
The direction of three renowned horror filmmakers – Kim Seong-ho, Kim Hwi and Jeong Beom-sik – is generally lackluster, and the plots are not strong enough to remain in the audience's memory as stories despite some visually memorable scenes.
If you are searching for a creative horror story, this movie is a bad choice.