Don't Play With Cursed Films!
Mi-Jung (Seo Yea-Ji) is a young filmmaker with a reputation for being eccentric. She is working on creating a script for a horror film for a group of investors but she’s having a hard time with inspiration. She has recurring nightmares that link with a past suicide attempt on her part, but they do not come together and she has no narrative. The investors have lost their patience and demand to have a script in two weeks. This is when Mi-Jung hears about a supposedly cursed student film, reputedly made by the ghost of a girl killed during the filming, a movie which caused the patrons of a theater to flee upon its one and only screening. Intrigued, she tries to track down the film, to learn more about it, and eventually finds the director, who is not very accommodating, to say the least. Her curiosity sends her on a surreal journey, where the past becomes present, and the dead are very much alive and interacting with her. Oh, and there is the ghost, the scary as hell vengeful ghost, and she’s fixated on Mi-Jung.
Korean horror is a genre that has delivered some absolute gems. Warning: Do Not Play carries on in that tradition, although it seems to lean more heavily on cultural precepts than most others have in the past (at least the ones released internationally). This makes the film a bit more inaccessible to Western audiences, but it also gives it an extra power and terror. Warning is steeped in Korean traditions, folk tales and superstitions that inform and infuse themselves into every frame of the story. Ideas of vengeance, forgiveness, of the self and our role in this world, add to the shifting realities and tensions already brimming in the film. What we get is a tight, well-told story, a mystery, a quest into terror, where Mi-Jung’s desperate desire to find the truth not only almost kills her, but also, in the end, transforms her in a very terrible, scarring way. She gets the movie she wants, but at what price? Has her encounter with the other world healed her or is it just using her to further its vengeful needs?
Warning: Do Not Play is a pretty damned good movie. It’s got some decent jump scares, the ghostly woman is a great twist on the whole “Girl With the Long Black Hair” trope, and it offers a unique and mysterious and surreal spin on the whole “grudge” and vengeful spirit narratives. At no point can you trust what you are seeing is real, or even that what the characters are seeing is real. Is this all some pent-up trauma? Is it really a ghost? No solid answers are given. Warning does give us the very emotional journey of Mi-Jung, from suicide attempt through ghostly horrors to praised filmmaker, and it’s an unsettling, frightening tale, both for her and the audience.