The most difficult part of grasping "Epitaph" for me was realizing that this was an omnibus film. While supposedly framed in the context of a professor reflecting on his time working at a hospital under Japanese occupation, the various stories (the snails, the little girl, and the murders) are largely unconnected aside from the motif of setting. And given that none of these stories have particularly definite endings, it was difficult to tell when we were supposed to be transitioning from one to the other, and which parts of the movie were supposed to be relevant overall versus which were just callbacks to one individual story.
So, the movie is a little confusing to watch. But that's only because I went in not knowing what it was going to be about. From the very first scene "Epitaph" builds a seeping, nerve-wracking sense of awkward fear. What looks like an old, delapidated video being recorded for science quickly takes a turn for the uncomfortable as the patient receives a rather unsettling operation. Suspense and fear is built up even without the addition of supernatural elements.
And when the supernatural elements do pop up, well, that's when things really get scary. Typically the problem with ghosts is that they're the vengeful, violent type. The ones in "Epitaph" are actually quite friendly. Here's the problem. Do you particularly want to be friends with a spectral entity whose mind and body have been warped by the trauma of death?
It gets worse. You know survivor's guilt, the psychological concept which states that people who live when others die feel guilty about it, even when they're not really at fault? Imagine someone in the throes of that personal fault being planted right in front of the evidence of it. That alone is pretty bad for psychological trauma. Now imagine that coupled with the mangled, friendly countenance I mentioned above. Scared yet?
Well, "Epitaph" is expert at being able to deliver on these fears. Even without proper context the visuals and sound design alone are enough to get the heart pounding. The more complex metaphors at work in this movie are just a bonus. This is the kind of horror film that genuinely deserves to be played with the lights out- the scares warrant it, and the sense of the unknown is serious enough that a cloak of darkness is an extremely appropriate accompanying aid.
Still, while the themes and metaphors are clearly there, I'm not completely confident that the message is as deep as the cinematography makes it appear. The three different stories differ a lot in terms of style and literal expectations. They could all be effective in their own way, but the stories are integrated just deep enough into the overall narrative that they can't really be evaluated on stand alone terms, or be seen as having much artistic value outside of the other two. But these are all just complicated film questions. "Epitaph" frightens the viewer, and raises questions comparably scary to the visuals. For the typical horror movie fan, that should be more than enough.
Review by William Schwartz
Avaialble on DVD from YESASIA
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Epitaph""
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