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Living Death - Movie Poster
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South Korea 2009

Horror, Drama

Lee Yong-joo

Nam Sang-mi
Ryoo Seung-ryong
Kim Bo-yeon
Sim Eun-kyeong
Moon Hee-kyeong
Lee Chang-jik
Jang Young-nam
Oh Ji-eun

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Living Death

Living Death - Film Screenshot 1

aka Possessed

Story: Hee-jin (Nam Sang-mi) is called by her mother (Kim Bo-yeon) who informs her that her sister So-jin (Sim Eun-kyeong) disappeared. Therefore, Hee-jin returns to her home town and has difficulties finding out from her mother what the trigger for her sister's disappearance really was. She assumes that the fanatic faith of her mother has driven the child away from home, and even now the mother wants to do nothing but pray for her child's return. But Hee-jin calls in the police, nonetheless. Detective Tae-hwan (Ryoo Seung-ryong) doesn't consider the case anything special, since children often run away from home for a few days. But during the questioning of the apartment building tenants a suicide suddenly occurs. It turns out that the dead person knew So-jin and that the vanished girl apparently has been possessed. At least according to some neighbors. The case gets more and more mysterious when a second suicide takes place. While more and more connections from So-jin to other neighbors are uncovered, Hee-jin suffers more and more frequently from hallucinations and day dreams. Maybe the rumors about people being possessed in the apartment building aren't that far-fetched after all...

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Review: It's a bit unfortunate that "Living Death" has too many mistakes to deserve a clear recommendation, because this horror flick otherwise toys with genre conventions and thankfully veers away from your typical cliché of the long-haired female ghost. Other mandatory scares almost aren't to be found either. Instead, the horror movie is built on a creepy atmosphere and character-driven drama. For latter the characters turn out a bit too mysterious, as is common in the genre, but motives like religion and letting-go of your beloved still give the movie more depth than you are used to see from a Korean horror flick. However, the way the viewer is given the runaround can be frustrating at times and moreover is also a standard genre tool.

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Standing in the horror story's centre are different forms of religion that can be practiced to the degree of fanatism which is when they are turned into their complete opposite. To be more precise Christianity and Korean shamanism are contrasted with one another. The mother clearly has cut all bonds to secular rationality and lives solely for her faith. Her attempts of converting other to Christianity and her fanatism in general are sometimes scary, but even more disturbing is the potrayal of shamanism, whereas especially during one certain ritual the kind of uneasiness and horror is created we already know from "The Exorcist". It's probably not that wrong to assume that "The Wailing" took some pages out of this horror movie's book. After all, both movies share the subtle and deep-seated horror of the unknown. And a few years later director Lee Yong-joo should prove with his work "Architecture 101" that he isn't just a one-hit wonder.

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Whether this unknown is something evil or not doesn't seem to be so clear after all. The evidence pointing at So-jin being/having been possessed gets more and more obvious, but despite the suicides taking place you get the strong impression that maybe the ghost which possesses people has all the right in the world to take revenge. As not to be expected otherwise the creepy atmosphere is also created by the fact that the individuals behave rather odd at times. This would be fine if there were a reasonable explanation for their behavior later on, even if it just were of a supernatural kind. But no one bothers in the film. Many questions remain unanswered and we don't get enough material to be able to work out some answers ourselves. Accordingly, the horror flick turns out to be not as smart as it wants to be. After all, subtlety only works when there is actually an additional layer hidden under the surface. That's not always the case here.

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Next to the characters, who don't act convincingly in their oddness, the open ending is bothering as well, which even seems rather unnecessary. It would without a problem have been possible to make the ending a bit more well-rounded and still keep something mysterious about it. Nam Sang-mi ("Dead Friend", "She is on Duty") for example plays a woman who suffers from an illness that isn't defined in any further details and she constantly is plagued by visions. Sometimes her day dreams in fact deliver well achieved horror moments without the movie slipping off into clichés, but the resolution is completely predictable. Other mysteries are easily solved by the audience in advance, too. And those that can't be solved in fact don't have a satisfactory explanation to them.

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When it comes to the religious motives it's at least concerning one individual not comprehensible why he/she chooses suicide, which is considered the worst of all sins in Christianity and is equivalent to a ticket straight to hell. As the detective we get to see Ryoo Seung-ryong ("The Piper", "War of the Arrows") before he had his big breakthrough. He in fact manages to steal the show, particularly in one scene, but sadly his background story falls by the wayside. The direction this horror film heads into with its tight, creepy atmosphere is undoubtfully the right one. We finally get a more inventive horror film. Unfortunately, the screenplay leaves a few things unanswered and by doing so just proves that the story comes along with quite a few plot holes. If you are willing to overlook this, you should give "Living Death" a chance, though.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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