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Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Loner (2008)

The Korean horror genre is a love-it or hate-it affair for most, their reliance on black-haired ghosties got old 10 years ago; but they seem intent on further including them in their genre films. Few horror films stray from the formula set-up by break-out Korean horror Whispering Corridors in 1998; schoolgirls being haunted by a dead friend. Those that have strayed from the path have been greatly rewarded (Tales of Two Sisters, Acacia and Save the Green Planet spring to mind) but there are others that remain under-appreciated, such as Black House, Epitaph and Possessed (A.k.a Living Death) three such films deserving of more attention from Horror fans. The Loner however, tries it’s hardest to be different and manages to succeed… for the most part.

Life is tough for Su-na, her best friend kills herself after a humiliating public beat-down and her Uncle, Se-jin, is in love with Yoon-mi, a psychiatrist she can’t stand. The pressure drives Su-na into reclusion, or as her Uncle's missus calls it ‘Hikikomori’ – a Japanese term for shut-ins. As Su-na’s condition worsens, an imaginary friend and totally disregard for her own hygiene; it appears that Su-na is destined for the same fate as her friend unless Yoon-mi can help get to the bottom of her condition before her condition takes a violent turn not just for Su-na, but the whole household.

Where The Loner succeeds is where other genre entries have failed; is in its characterisation. The film is smartly paced and allows character development to mature naturally, Su-na’s condition doesn’t kick-in until the half-hour mark, that’s not to say its slow paced, as it’s far from it and there’s plenty going on within the narrative to keep viewers entertained as well as a few nasty shocks up its sleeve along the way. There’s obviously a big secret being kept from us, but it’s not hard to guess what it is, but thanks to the story revolving around three protagonists instead of one; the emotional level of the reveal hits harder than it would have if Su-na had been the story’s sole protagonist.

This is where the film eventually falls down. After the big reveal the films gets lost in itself and the final sprint to the ending feels exactly that; rushed. It’s not bad enough to ruin what happens before it, but with a little more thought on the finale maybe The Loner could have been a special little shocker, as is though it’s a worthwhile entry in an already uneven canon. Korean horror certainly has potential and maybe sometime soon we’ll see more classics in the vein of Tale of Two Sisters and Black House. Director Park Jae-sik shows a flare for some lush visuals and has a talent for creating a distressing atmosphere which points to a talent that may well go on to make something far superior to what’s seen here.

It’s disappointing that such a strong film manages to fumble the ball in the final third, but for fans of Korean horror this is well worth checking out. If you enjoyed other middle-tier genre entries like The Wig, A.P.T and Death Bell then you’ll find yourself entertained for the films duration, though the likelihood of frequent re-visits is unlikely; which is a shame as the first half of the film really is gripping stuff. Maybe next time Mr. Park; I for one will be interested in this directors future projects.

Sadly, The Loner is now out of print and has not been acquired for UK or US distribution as yet.

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