Hangul: 여고괴담 4 : 목소리
Romanisation: Yeogo Goedam 4: Moksori
Release Date: 20th July 2005 (South Korea)
Running Time: 104 mins.
Director: Choi Ik-Hwan
Writer: Choi Ik-Hwan, Sul Joon-Suk
Starring: Kim Ok-Vin, Cha Ye-Ryun, Seo Ji-Hye, Kim Seo-Hyung, Lee Eun, Lim Hyun-Kyung, Jun Ji-Ae, Kim Sung-Tae, Nam Sang-Ran
This is the fourth instalment in the Whispering Corridors series and the directorial debut of Choi Ik-Hwan who was assistant director on the first film of the series, Whispering Corridors. The Voice is the final instalment in the Tartan Ghost School Quartet Box Set so I wanted it to be a really good film and it was, beating back any negative feelings invoked by Wishing Stairs and establishing itself as my third favourite Korean horror movie behind A Tale of Two Sisters and Memento Mori.
Sun-Min (Seo Ji-Hye) misses her friend Eun-Young (Kim Ok-Vin) after class and goes searching for her. She finds her singing in the school’s music room. Eun-Young wants to stay longer so she can practice but she is disturbed by another person singing and then a mysterious shadowy figure begins to torment her. She finds herself pursued and then killed, her body disappearing. The next day Sun-Min is concerned by her friend’s absence but when she starts hearing Eun-Young’s voice coming out of nowhere she is terrified. She quickly adapts to the situation and discovers that Eun-Young’s spirit is trapped in the school. Eun-Young makes the plea, “I can’t disappear without knowing why I died.” With the help of fellow student Cho-Ah (Cha Ye-Ryun), a girl once in a mental hospital, Sun-Min seeks to unravel a supernatural mystery which centres on the music teacher Hee-Yeon (Kim Seo-Hyung).
This is the fourth in the Whispering Corridors series and is about questioning whether we can truly ever know a person or even ourselves. It is done with a close up of three school girls and a brooding and probing use of the supernatural in a mystery narrative.
The twisting mystery takes place in a mostly linear manner (with a few flashbacks) over five days and mostly in the location of a modern school where students are told, “The purpose of life is achieving satisfaction. You have to work hard”.
Like in the previous films the school system is demanding but instead of being exploitative or authoritarian as in the previous films, it is a little laid back (only a little) and this time it is about the lengths people will go to achieve personal satisfaction. The key to mystery of why Eun-Young died is intrinsically linked to her behaviour in her past life, the degree of her search for satisfaction and those it hurt. Solving it reveals some insights for all involved with the characters and audience learning some things.
The film plays on the audience’s need to identify with the protagonist and plays with our perceptions of the characters and Sun-Min finds out some unpleasant truths about her friend. As Cho-Ah tells Sun-Min, “a ghost remembers only what it wants to” but is Cho-Ah to be trusted? Is Sun-Min as good a friend as we suppose? The script is good at planting doubts in our minds as we follow their investigation.
The girls are empathetic. This is not a case of character assassination as motivations are complex and even when callous behaviour is revealed they never totally lose sympathy. Part of our connection to them is because we get some really good takes on a supernatural haunting that Eun-Young undergoes. As a ghost, Eun-Young discovers the horror of being trapped in the school as real time unfolds. She is alone all night and is constantly awake, these scenes are unnerving because of some of the things that she sees and they help gain her sympathy. What happens is a stylish character piece which, while not as good a drama/film as Memento Mori, it is a far scarier prospect.
The haunting starts straight away and is woven into the story alongside the drama which makes the use of the two seamless. Within the first few minutes Eun-Young is killed by a poltergeist which has a knack of causing excessively deadly paper cuts. It is done with a certain stylishness continues throughout the film. Mise-en-scene is perfect. There is a crisp look to the film, shot in a nostalgic amber hue where details are in focus and we can see everything including dust motes in the air and different shades of darkness. CGI is used tastefully as part of ambience of scenes or in conveying the exploration of the past as characters and external locations fade in and fade out of school corridors in stylish sequences that extend towards the horror.
The Voice uses well thought out sound and camera techniques and ideas to generate a horror atmosphere. When Eun-Young realises she is a ghost, the sound drops out and we see her looking bewildered. Her presence causes static in electronic devices (as supernatural presences are supposed to do) and the sound of her voice fluctuates as she tries to talk to Sun-Min. There are subtle things like shadow of a head will emerge from behind a person in medium shots, along with phantom hands and ghostly duets can be heard singing out. Unlike the previous films there are moments of outright terror in this that made me sit bolt-upright, heart hammering and head ringing. One scene takes place in an elevator, the doors opening to a corridor filled with shadows that are a devastating shade of black as a voice can be heard in the distance.
The only problem with the film is an ending which reaches for shock and ruins the story that had been built up. Apart from the ending I liked the film a lot what with the good acting and excellent set design and direction.
I have come to realise that the strength of Korean ghost stories is not in making me jump up in fright but in creating a story dripping with atmosphere which leaves me choked up on emotions and gaining new insights into humanity. The Voice did not necessarily achieve these lofty goals but it was scary at points and it is an extremely well-crafted film and intriguing entry that examines the problems with persona, subjectivity and memory in an entertaining way. The film is beautiful and visually engaging and I never lost interest in it once.