There's a considerable amount of good intentions behind writer and director Yoon Een-Kyoung's directorial debut film Lingering...
...Uncovering a family's tragic past set against the backdrop of an eerie hotel is as good a premise as any to set up scares. Whether or not those scares and mysteries hidden within the hotel's halls are memorable is where the real discussion of Lingering begins.
Yoo-mi's (Se-yeong Lee) tragic past comes roaring back into her life when she's suddenly asked to become her young sister Yoon Ji-yoo's (So-yi Park) adoptive guardian. Unable to adequately support Yoon Ji-yoo but unwilling to let her wind up in an orphanage, Yoo-mi seeks a family friend, Gyeong-seon (Ji-Young Park), at her secluded hotel. Gyeong-seon agrees to care for the child, but only if Yoo-mi stays the weekend, an offer she regretfully obliges.
From the moment we step foot into the hotel, we sense that something is off. This towering and glamorous hotel is empty except for the trio and a maid who spends her days drinking her fill of soju. These quiet halls are a screaming reminder of the pain that the hotel represents for Yoo-mi and her baggage from her traumatic childhood. It doesn't take long into Yoo-mi and Yoon Ji-yoo’s stay for strange hauntings to occur, and they will have to unravel the mystery of their family's past if they wish to survive them.
To its credit, Lingering's narrative framework is a sound one, presented with some above-average cinematography thanks to Hyeong-bin Lee. The towering hotel's presentation and the pristine but atmospherically morose vibe that lingers in every shot is apparent throughout. The composition of scenes is also impressively structured as every shot feels deliberate in purpose. A spooky hotel isn't exactly the most original setting to explore the demons of one's past, but when it looks this good, it makes for a more than palatable setup.
It is the contents of Lingering's narrative and scares that begin to wane considerably the longer we dive down the family’s rabbit hole of secrets.
What begins as flashbacks explaining Yoo-mi's tangled web of a relationship with her mentally ill mother is quickly replaced with convoluted plot points and inconsequential characters. For instance, once the haunting begins, a character is introduced and agrees to help Yoo-mi with the spirit haunting her. This character is never explained, randomly appears, lacking any context as to why he's compelled to help her. After confronting the spirit, he becomes abusive towards her for having him handle it. This character then disappears, never to be seen again.
It's a very jarring and strange sequence that does little more than facilitate one of many meager scares. From apparitions appearing in mirrors, bodiless children's laughter, to ghost's faces just barely visible in the dark corner of rooms, with the exception of the film’s opening scare, there's little here you haven't seen countless times before. Honestly, it all feels played out, given you can see a majority of them coming before they present themselves.
I could overlook the run of the mill scares if I had some semblance of investment in the overall narrative, but we’re given little incentive to. Other than Yoon Ji-yoo, who is, you know, a child, virtually every other character is unlikeable or lacks the range to convey the sympathy we're supposed to feel for them. Furthermore, the film's mystery takes several needless turns given how straightforward the conclusion’s reveal ends up being.
It’s a shame the film never capitalizes upon several cultural and societal issues within Korean culture, such as the perception of women and the stigma surrounding mental illness. These themes are only ever given a surface-level examination despite that the film’s narrative opens the door for more in-depth exploration.
The finale ends with yet another strange instance of convoluted storytelling that is relatively ambiguous. I don’t have a problem with ambiguity, but when the adequate craft of the beginning of the film no longer props up scenes, it leads to questions that I no longer care to have answered.
Despite a promising beginning, Lingering is a fairly simple film made needlessly confusing to seem more mysterious than it actually is.
Lingering comes exclusively to Shudder on November 12th.
By Jay Krieger