Courtesy of MovieXclusive.com
Its 9:56 p.m. and Sejin (Ko So-young) once again notices the lights in the apartment building across from hers going bonkers for that precious few seconds. She needs to warn somebody, anybody who might actually believe her this time. She knows someone is going die.
Now, its a crying shame when a comparatively intriguing premise comes along but is strewn away by its helmer midway through for generically mustered scare gags. Fright auteur Ahn Byung-ki has kept his eerie, clean visuals going since 2002s horror hit Phone and even while 9:56 (or more commonly known as APT) is strongly attuned to his style, its starting to look stale and recycled by current standards. He fuses Rear Window with Ju-On in an attempt to revitalise an ailing genre but ends up tangling himself in the usual trappings of strange shower antics, longhaired ghouls that creak inexplicably and shadowy figures flighting across opaque windows. And with an entire body of work dedicated to this genre, youd think practice would have made perfect by now.
A prevailing theme of loneliness drapes the films heavy atmosphere. Adapted from a graphic novel, it does give a decent attempt at characterisation that started out promising but once again, gets abandoned when the temptation of clichd scare tactics becomes too overwhelming in its final third. Most disappointing of the lot is its protagonist, Sejin who looked to have a backbone that might as well have been literally stripped from her as she gradually transforms into yet another expressionless scream-queen already forgotten in the annals of K-horror. This undercurrent of sadness and taboo pushing could have very well been used throughout the film to dig into some truly dark and disturbing psychological depths but ends up taking a backseat to hackneyed genre elements.
Even when all is said, Ahn still constructs a richly striking scene in his key shots. Rich vibrant colours popping out in clean, washed out interiors show a keen eye for intrigue that unfortunately builds to disappointingly unoriginal denouements. And its beat perfect sequences in predictability suit the sort of suspense that audiences have grown to innately prepare themselves for.
The jig is up. No doubt, Ahns talent in this genre has been realised but he needs to reinvent himself soon to stay viable in the changing face of Asian horror. A great step would be expounding on his encroachment into human misery as an entre into terror and to leave the longhaired ghouls behind forever.