Writer/director Kwang-bin Kim’s debut full-length film begins with a great deal of promise...
...The Closet features a haunting score (Yeong-wook Jo, 2003’s Oldboy), the misty atmosphere of a remote forest, and ghastly, eyeless schoolchildren out for blood.
Single father Sang Won (Jung-woo Ha,The Chaser, The Handmaiden), must independently care for his young daughter Ina (Yool-Heo) after the death of his wife in a car crash. Sang Won and Ina escape the city and move to a large house in the middle of a forest.
The Closet quickly establishes the cold dynamic between Sang Won and Ina. It’s unclear whether the father-daughter relationship was damaged before or after the loss of Ina’s mother. It is clear, however, that Dad is aloof, and Ina takes a back seat to his job. In two early scenes, we see Sang Won offer Ina gifts in exchange for his absence to focus on work as an architect. Ina scoffs or simply ignores the presents, but Sang Won doesn’t change his tune. In fact, he considers sending Ina to an “art school” where she would be isolated from friends and family.
The Closet opens with homemade footage of a 1998 exorcism that takes place in the same house Sang Won and Ina move into. This scene serves as foreshadowing for Ina’s fate after she mysteriously disappears while at home with a nanny (whom her father hired so he could continue working in the city). Sang Won must team up with the loose cannon exorcist Kyong-Hoon (Nam-gil Kim, Pan-dola, The Fiery Priest) to rescue Ina from becoming permanently lost in the afterlife. This underworld exists in, you guessed it, a portal in Ina’s closet. Kyong-Hoon’s personal goal is to finish the failed exorcism his mother began, which is shown in the opening scene’s home recording. Kyong-Hoon explains that many children have gone missing and that a demonic child (Si-ah Kim) has abducted countless other children by exploiting a door in the veil between the living and the dead.
The film fails to produce any bone chilling scares, but the audience is treated to dark imagery that produces unease. We witness crows consuming the corpse of a decaying faun on the side of the road during Sang Won and Ina’s journey to their new home. Crows are prevalent throughout the film. They perch on tree branches, swoop over the house, and crash into windows. There are also dolls. A lot of dolls. As if eyeless, otherworldly children aren’t disturbing enough, dolls haunt the background of the film. One is a gift from Sang Won to Ina. Several display in Ina’s room. A doll is used as a tool in an exorcism, and many dolls lounge in the dark on the Other Side. The Closet lacks a sense of terrifying immediacy and chair-clutching jump scares. However, Kwang-bin Kim crafts a haunting environment and marries it with the perfect score to create a subtly creepy character unto itself.
Both Jung-woo Ha and Yool-Heo’s acting is skillful and moving. Nam-gil Kim’s character offers levity, and at times, even comic relief. Despite creating a fantastic set and featuring several solid acting talents, The Closet is peppered with plot holes and inconsistencies that compete against the actors for center stage.
We never get answers to some plot questions: Why did Kyong-Hoon, a well-established exorcist, wait 22 years to honor his mother’s memory? This is confusing considering he is well aware that children have disappeared in the area for years. How did Kyong-Hoon go from ghost-busting geek to a suave, turtlenecked exorcist with a silver tongue overnight (in the hospital, no less)? Why is Sang Won so unbearably calm for someone who suffers from clinically diagnosed panic attacks? Why does Sang Won’s wife (Shin Hyun-bin, Warrior Baek Dong-soo) attack him in the afterlife?
Even with these issues, the core message of the film and its ending help repair a little of the damage done. Sang Won ultimately understands his resentment of Ina has caused a level of grief that wounds her beyond the loss of her mother. The Closet explores how grief can transform into debilitating feelings that we carry with us until we come to terms with them, perhaps even into the afterlife. Feelings like anger, resentment, obsession, and revenge.
While The Closet isn’t a shining example of Korean horror, it isn’t a bad film. I’m excited to see what Kwang-bin Kim produces in the coming years. If he improves the consistency of storytelling and treats it in the same manner that he creates his settings, we could see some exceptional filmmaking.
The Closet comes to Digital and DVD from Dark Sky Films and Capelight Pictures on December 15th.
By Amy Cerkas