I don’t quite know how you go about reviewing a film like The Mimic. As I watched its early sections, enjoying the ride reasonably enough, I nevertheless thought back to some of the Whispering Corridors series (and sadly the weakest of them, Blood Pledge) in which plot is subservient to gratuitous scares. Probably if you were to analyse your standard horror movie, the structure focuses on the periodic shocks, at regular but not too frequent intervals, and the narrative that comes in between provides the framing and context for these shocks. When the narrative is disjointed the shocks begin to lose their point.
If you’re having such thoughts when watching a movie it’s a sure sign that the storytelling is not as lucid as it could be. In particular, I found the first 20 minutes pretty hard to follow, with scenes too short to enable you to pick up what was going on. After a while though the fragments piece themselves together and you can start getting into the flow of the movie.
So what is it all about? A young couple have lost their son, who went missing while under the care of his increasingly senile grandmother. The family start a new life in the country with their young daughter, and find a mysterious young orphan girl in the woods who quickly assumes the voice, character and even name of the daughter, insinuating herself into the family’s affections. Meanwhile strange sounds are heard in the wood, and an evil presence seems emanate from an old walled-up cave in the mountains.
The movie nods to many of the K-horror conventions – shamans, mysterious voices, inexplicable bodily afflictions, strange things happening beyond the mirror, enigmatic characters issuing weird warnings and arcane legends about strange spirits. In the end, you don’t need to worry too much what’s going on – just wait for the next scary bit. And there are some pretty good ones.
None of the actors, particularly the male characters, have much to do, and as is often the case with Korean movies the children are the stars, though Yeom Jung-ah (the stepmother in Tale of Two Sisters) navigates well the territory between being slightly unhinged at losing her son and being the main driving force for resolving the film’s mysteries while also being a loving foster-mother for the mysterious girl. There’s a nice feeling of claustrophobia throughout, not only in the cave itself but in the woods too: the densely-packed trunks of the trees echo the bars of the animal cages of the family’s puppy pension business. Unlike last year’s The Wailing, you probably won’t want to watch The Mimic a second time, but it’s definitely worth going along to enjoy for its many adrenaline-inducing moments. Director Huh Jung made a promising debut with Hide and Seek (LKFF 2013), and this is a solid follow-up. We look forward to his third.
Huh Jung (허정) The Mimic (장산범, 2017)
The Mimic screened at LEAFF on 26 October in the Competition strand, and will screen at LKFF on 7 November in the Cinema Now strand.