Coming all the way from South Korea via Shudder, writer/director Yoo Sun-Dong starts his debut feature with some familiar scares as the opening plot largely follows the “cabin-in-the-woods” horror trope of Western films...
...Years prior to the start of the movie a woman hung herself and now her spirit haunts the house where she ended her life. 0.0MHz begins with a ceremony done by a Mu (shaman) in a remote part of South Korea. Traditional instruments and garments set the mysticism deeply in the culture of the country, but casually dressed onlookers in Western-style clothing creates a juxtaposition by presenting the old-fashioned and the more modern approach to the spirit world. Shortly after the “traditional” method of exorcism fails horribly, the new generation steps in to try their hand at removing the spirit from the house. Five college-age friends go to the out of the way location and while loading up with booze and snacks a harbinger-spouting local warns the group about the house, but all his attempts go ignored.
However, do not let the opening premise fool you into accepting a common horror genre because 0.0MHz is not a slasher nor a haunted house film. Instead, you are in for a lesser known genre called Hair Horror! With the premiere of Ringu (1998) the image of a ghostly woman with long black (sometimes deadly, or even sentient) hair became an image synonymous with fear. The image appears most frequently in Japanese films such as Ju-on (2004) and Dark Water (2002), but South Korea is no stranger to the genre with Pon (2002), The Wig (2005), and Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait (2007). While The Ring (2002) popularized the long-haired ghosts for Western audiences, for Korean horror fans, the image most likely gained influence from a Gwisin, a ghost of Korean folklore. The folktales tell of a woman dressed in white with her long black hair obscuring her featureless face, and her proclivity to haunt abandoned places. Which brings us back to our story of 0.0MHz.
The choice of casting obviously took into consideration how to appeal to the younger generations of Korea and anyone else with a love for K-Pop because the leads are played by Jung Eun-Ji of girl group Apink and Lee Sung-Yeol of boy band INFINITE. Woo So-Hee (Jung) and Koo Sang-Yeob (Lee) become the newest members of a college student run group called 0.0MHz, which dedicate their free time to discussing ghosts and investigating possible haunted locations. During the initial meeting of the oddly named ghost-hunting group, we learn the reasoning for the strange name from the president of the club, Tae-Soo (Jung Won-Chang). It appears in order to contact spirits the human brainwave must register at 0.0MHz. This little insight into paranormal investigation makes for an interesting fact, but also creates an awkward and forgettable movie title. Also, the first meeting provides a bit of character development as the newest members present a dichotomy with the group as a whole and with each other. Sang-Yeob frightens easily and joined the group (or so he says) to gain insight for his unfinished horror novel, while So-Hee does not even flinch at the tragic stories and graphic images connected to 0.0MHz’s first investigative outing.
After doing a bit of research on the haunted house seen in the opening segment, all members of 0.0MHz head to the small village armed with all their ghost related technology and know-how. For a group consisting of college students, the club owns an excessive number of high-tech gadgets. Supposedly all the devices are used to track ghosts and even measure brain waves so they can find the allusive 0.0MHz. Along with the expensive technology, the leader of the group claims a list of odd items prove essential to the ritual of calling a spirit: Two identical dolls, a long needle, the item used for killing, salt, and the fresh liver of a cow. The ritual calls for very specific uses of all these items, and while the steps add to the creepiness of the situation, there is no mention of how the group learned about this procedure. Any knowledge of summoning spirits simply become attributed to the group’s expertise in necromancy, which we are expected to take at face-value.
Four of the friends treat the excursion as a time for cook outs, drinks, and teasing the newest members of the club, but So-Hee grows increasingly quiet as unsettling images of people appear to her and no one else. She does not share her visions with the others and even seems to accept supernatural occurrences as a way of life. The other female lead played by Choi Yoon-Young, also stands out from the bro-ish behavior of the male-counterparts as her natural intelligence and bravery allow her to approach the ghost hunt with a level-head. Yoon-Jung (Choi) really steals a lot of the scenes due to the pure physicality required to fulfill the role. After the two female characters establish themselves as the most interesting figures in the movie, both of them become incapacitated. Both Jung and Choi earn more screen time later in the film, but for a portion of the movie we rely on the three male characters bumbling about trying to ward off the ghost.
The director incorporates a few jump scares and creepy images, but only when not relying on CGI. The influence of the film comes from a Webtoon of the same name. 0.0MHz the online comic earns some significant praise for its graphic imagery, however trying to recreate the same presence for the big screen does not really work without the budget. Focusing more on the creepy atmosphere and practical effects would have increased the overall scare value of this film.
With so many new-comers to the world of horror (and film) Yoo, Lee, and Jung all struggle with finding a proper rhythm for the story and characters. The plot does not bring us anything new, but the familiar narrative allows the audience to fall into embracing the ghost. Also, the uneven tempo of the story, character development, and “big” reveals will have all of us yelling ‘bali-bali’* in hopes the movie will pick up the pace. The recent explosion of the movie Parasite brought K-horror to the world, so I would think more first time Korean directors (like Yoo) will get more opportunities to share their craft. 0.0MHz will not expand the genre as a whole but is hopefully the start of more horror from the ROK because the folklore and culture can offer a lot for horror fans.
Discover 0.0MHz when it debuts on Shudder April 23rd.
* ”hurry up” in Korean
By Amylou Ahava
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