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Original Title:
Geomeun Jib

South Korea 2007

Thriller, Crime, Horror

Shin Tae-ra

Hwang Jeong-min
Kang Shin-il
Yu Seon
Kim Seo-hyeong
Yu Seung-mok
Kim Jeong-seok
Jeong In-gi
Kim Joo-hee
Lee Hae-yeong
Lee Joo-sil
Yeo Min-goo
Son Ho-seung
Hwang Choon-ha
Son Byeong-wook

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Black House

Story: Insurance agent Jeong Juno (Hwang Jeong-min) is new, but not inexperienced in the business. He has soon adapted himself to his new job and already gets assignments that don't just involve desk work. One day a client is asking especially for him, and so Juno visits a solitary, run-down old house, in which the odd worker Chung-bae (Kang Shin-il) is living. At the house Juno finds the son of Chung-bae lifelessly hanging from the ceiling. Everything seems to indicate that this is a suicide, but Juno can't believe in that. It almost seems as if he was called to Chung-bae's house just to find the dead son and serve as a witness. Juno finds this whole situation to be very strange and believes this to be a murder case. However, the police doesn't take him serious and thus he investigates on his own.
Chung-bae visits the life insurance agency day by day and claims the money of his son's life insurance. Meanwhile, Juno has found out, that Chung-bae apparently has cut of his own thumb just to get some money from the insurance agency. Juno instantly goes to Chung-bae's house to warn his wife Yi-hwa (Yu Seon), who is also covered by a high insurance policy, and therefore could be the next victim...

Review: "Black House" is often described as a horror film, but in the end this movie is a true psychological thriller. That's a welcome change, as another horror flick around a restless ghost, who missed to go to the hairdresser lately, really isn't anything we want to see anymore. "Black House", however, is a very thrilling and at times astonishingly bloody thriller revolving around a psychopath, who kills in order to get his hands on the money of the insurance policy. The movie proves to be very appealing, thanks to its slick looks, and dark and atmospheric pictures. The plot focuses on insurance agent Juno, who we accompany on his investigation, meaning that we see the whole movie from his perspective. His background story concerning his brother and his brother's suicide as a child, which he had to witness with his own eyes, also gives this movie a more dramatic touch and let's the viewer weave an emotional bond to the main character.

The first half of the film almost looks like a typical crime thriller. We accompany Juno as he collects evidence against the obvious monster Chung-bae, whose background story leaves no doubt, that he has actually killed his own son. With an empty gaze and a constant humming that makes his madness even more apparent, he appears at the insurance agency again and again to demand his money. Juno's efforts to convince the police to further investigate the case are without success, as the they think that Juno might just be trying to escape his duty to pay out the policy. Juno's hands are tied up and he can't do a thing. Not even Yi-hwa is taking his warnings for serious.
From the second half onwards the movie's true thrill factor starts to kick in. Juno is almost driven into madness by the psychological terror he has to endure. There are 30 new messages on his answering machine every day, and there is only a slight sound of a train to be heard in the background of these messages. The same train that passes by Chung-bae's house. But that's not the end of the story as even Juno's apartment gets ravaged by someone.

The movie's story is based on a novel by Yusuke Kishi (who also can be seen in a small cameo) and has already been put onto screen in the year 1999. Yet, the film wasn't as successful as expected by the producers, and so the story is made into a movie once again, this time in a Japanese-Korean co-production. The end product is really worth watching, even if there are some points to be criticized here and there.
For once there is the somewhat stiff staged background story around Juno's childhood and the suicide of his brother, which is playing a more or less major part during the film's showdown, of course. This plays down the finale's high quality style more than what might be excusable for some viewers. Moreover, it seems that there were some supporting characters in the novel that might have played a more major role in the story - or at least more than it is the case here. How else could you explain characters like the obsessed private eye, who has written whole essays about psychopaths, or the more aggressive colleague of Juno, who has an odd affinity for dental floss. It seems as if all these characters could have been important to the story in one way or the other, but then they serve no real purpose and look too shallow for us to care about them.

Sadly, Juno's wife, played by Kim Seo-hyeong also never gets the time on screen she deserves, so that the whole movie more or less solely focuses on Juno, demoting his wife to a mere tool to show his humanness.
Of course, the movie is fully carried by main actor Hwang Jeong-min ("Bloody Tie", "You are my Sunshine"), without a doubt one of the best Korean actors these days, and he proves this fact once again. At the beginning he seems a bit odd and we already expect to see a typical portrayal of an unsympathetic insurance agent the way we picture such individuals. But it doesn't take long until we can relate to him, eventually. His investigation makes him forget everything around him and his concern for Yi-hwa's life isn't without a reason, either. It seems that he tries to grasp for reconciliation with his conscience by solving the case about the murdered son, since he blames himself for his brother's suicide. Moreover, Juno seems very vulnerable all the time. Which doesn't mean that he is simply weak, as he actually is fighting for justice. Still, his weakness makes the scenes in which he has to struggle for survival even more tense and gripping.

The twist was pretty obvious from the beginning, at least as far as it concerns me, but luckily it's not standing in the film's foreground, as the twist is revealed already during the middle of the thriller. It's all about a psychopath, who is supposed to make us shiver in fear, and the film actually succeeds in doing so. Kang Shin-il and Yu Seon ("The Wig"), who is playing the wife of Kang, do a good job in portraying the monster, respectively the obliging marital partner. The cold-bloodedness of the killer is depicted very fittingly and has its climax in several brutal scenes and the segment in the cellar, which looks just like an image of hell, with its torturing instruments and the grimy, bloodstained walls. Of course, some viewers might feel reminded of "Saw" during these scenes, but that's no surprise as "Black House" shows in fact some slasher movie characteristics towards the end. The cellar's setting and the color palette used are very well chosen, as it is actually the case the whole film through, and add to the high tension of the scenes. Director Shin Tae-ra, who already made a name for himself with his low-budget movie "Brainwave", surely delivers a nice work.
Especially the villian and Juno's fight for survival make "Black House" a surprisingly gripping thriller, which leaves a good impression, despite the overstretched ending. Without a doubt a movie that deserves to be recommended to any fan of psychological thrillers.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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