N.B. This review is based on the Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival 2015 edit, screened at the closing ceremony.
Psychologist Jin-myeong (Kim Seong-gyoon (김성균) is unique in his trade as one of the few professionals who considers supernatural phenomena when treating clients, performing exorcisms with apprentice Ji-gwang (Kim Hye-seong (김혜성) when the need arises. Due to his unorthodox methods Jin-myeong has earned a notable reputation, attracting the unwanted attention of documentary producer Hye-in (Cha Ye-ryeon (차예련). Yet they are forced to combine their efforts when a disturbing new case occurs, as art curator Geum-joo (Yoo Seon (유선) is at the mercy of a particularly vindictive spirit, the secrets of which originate from forgotten childhood memories and a ghostly cave.
With a solid premise but poor execution, director Kim Hwi’s horror/thriller The Chosen: Forbidden Cave is heavy on frustration and light on scares. As the closing film for BiFan’s 2015 edition, the festival’s claim of the film’s ability to ‘punch up the horror scene’ in the industry is unfortunately pure hyperbole as The Chosen is, aside from a few well-constructed set-pieces, a bland addition in dire need of a re-edit.
The Chosen: Forbidden Cave begins in intriguing fashion as Jin-myeong lectures on the importance of shamanism when considering diagnosis, with a handful of scares to sell the concept. Yet from there the narrative rapidly descends into chaos as characters and themes randomly arise and recede, with the audience expected to instinctively know their place within the story. Jin-myeong appears to have the ability of foresight through dreams yet it is never made clear while a subplot, possibly involving his wife and a botched exorcism, is never explained; his subordinate Ji-gwang just seemingly appears during consultations while his supernatural gifts – other than furiously shaking a plant during treatments – are not ascertained; documentary producer Hye-in’s history and motivations are not revealed; and most importantly, there is zero logic in the aimless actions of the vindictive spirit that inhabits Geum-joo. Frustration quickly sets in as characters and events occur randomly, with a re-edit, and much greater elaboration and development, sorely needed.
While the ghost that inhabits Geum-joo is aggravatingly indiscriminate, the haphazard nature allows director Kim to stage a variety of horror set pieces that are generally well-constructed. While they are cliche and form a story more akin to a series of horror sequences than a coherent whole, the macabre scenes serve to present the tropes expected from the genre. Problematically however, as there are so many sequences of this manner, the impact and effectiveness of the horror is lost as audiences become increasingly immune.
Furthermore, the use of the 1948 Jeju Massacre as the ultimate source of terror within The Chosen is in particularly bad taste. Not that the tragic event doesn’t lend itself well to the genre, but the manner in which the tragedy is employed and interpreted as antiquated and misandrist, in need of purging by contemporary patriarchy and Christianity, is borderline offensive.
Actor Kim Seong-gyoon fares the best as psychologist/exorcist Jin-myeong within The Chosen. His stoic turn as the broad-minded professional halts emotional investment in the journey yet provides a solid foundation from which the events revolve around. The rest of the cast do not prosper as well. Yoo Seon is generally required to run around screaming and crying, while Cha Ye-ryeon and Kim Hye-seong are present merely to appear attractive and little else.
Aside from a solid premise and the occasional well-constructed horror sequence, The Chosen: Forbidden Cave is a big misstep from director Kim Hwi. The events and characters within the film appear and recede indiscriminately throughout the haphazard narrative while any sort of development is a rarity. The Chosen is a frustratingly bland addition to the K-horror scene.