If you enter the cinema drawn to the heady promise of horror from a movie set in the heart of South Korea (since movies from many East Asian countries have been known to instil a strong sense of apprehension and anxiety in its viewers), you are sadly in for the wrong movie.
Directed by Oh In-Cheon, Mourning Grave spins the tale of a young student, In-su (Kang Ha-neul) who has the gift – or curse – to see ghosts. As a child, In-su fled to the United States in a bid to escape the supernatural beings; however, the attempt was in vain when he still drew too much attention. These vengeful ghosts, often beset by their grudges, would seek him out and demand his aid in relieving them of their bitterness. Hoping to come to terms with his afflicted curse, he returns to his hometown in South Korea to face his demons.
There, he befriends a beautiful ghost, Ghost Girl (Kim So-eun), who has no recollection of her past before she died. While In-su struggles between his supernatural ability and his newfound friendship with Ghost Girl, the bullies at his new school start to go missing. He believes that the disappearances are caused by a bitter ghost at work, so he dives into the case.
Although it is a horror movie, with specks of romance and comedy thrown in, it does not hold up well against Hollywood horror movies such as The Conjuring. The Conjuring has a more complex storyline and spares no effort in giving jump scares amidst spine-tingling background music.
Also, while Mourning Grave plays on a strong plot with definite potential, there are too many gaps in the movie that are not answered.
It starts promisingly, with In-su bumping into the first ghost in a subway, a typical location of ghostly haunts. This scene is further established when a group of high school students enter the train to mock him about his supposed supernatural ability, which he would later fervently deny possessing. The scene later morphs into his home in South Korea, where the same ghost, perched crookedly on his shoulders, demands him to ‘relieve me of my grudge’.
This ghost would later completely disappear from the storyline, leaving me reeling in confusion as the main ghost, the Mask, then takes centre stage in the movie.
Unfortunately, most of the later scenes fail to maintain the same sense of heightened unease in viewers as similar ghostly encounters fall short of the scare factor, taking advantage of only the typical sound effects such as screams and sudden close-up shots of the Mask.
From the lack of decomposition on the body of the Mask (which would eventually be found) to the lack of a thrilling dash where In-su frantically tries to save his ailing classmates from the dark lusts of the Mask’s vengeance, the movie ends the tale in disappointing fashion, where whatever hype previously built up falls short of what could have been an epic climax.
Yet, beyond the undelivered promise of a great scare, Mourning Grave tells a compelling story of a young student, (later revealed to be the Mask), who is bullied and intimidated by her peers, right smack in the middle of what could be any other high school classroom. Caught in vicious and relentless bullying, unwittingly abetted by the blind eye of a teacher, the Mask’s actions speak volumes about the lengths one could go to to escape the anguish brought on by the cruel taunts and jeers.
Mourning Grave may not leave you in constant suspense or have you gripping the sides of your seats in anticipation, but it would likely leave you with a reminder to not only be kinder towards others, but to be brave for yourself and for others.