South Korean horror about a disjointed family in a spooky hotel. Beautifully atmospheric, but with a plot that wasn’t entirely cohesive.
If I start off by saying Lingering (known as Hotel Lake in most countries) is a South Korean horror, this is either going to excite you or put you off. This isn’t to say such films are all of a similar type – far from it – but it’s almost like cuisine: if I say I really enjoy Indian or Mexican food, that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of variation, or I don’t have preferred styles or restaurants. Similarly, just as some people are wary of Indian food (for example) because the first curry they tried was too strong for them, there are those who don’t watch Korean films because their first exposure was too intense or bloody.
Lingering, written and directed by Yoon Een-Kyoung, is not one of those “extreme” films. Rather, it is atmospheric and gorgeous to look at, while dealing with family angst and secret fears. There certainly is some intensity about the people and their history, but it is a subtle, slow-burning one (until it is not).
The central character is Yoo-mi (Se-yeong Lee) a young woman who needs a job but instead finds herself lumbered with a young sister, Yoon Ji-yoo (So-yi Park). The poor kid has never quite settled into foster care since their mother killed herself a few years earlier, and so it’s big sister’s turn to step up. Acknowledging that this isn’t exactly going to be viable until she has work, Yoo-mi takes the child to Gyeong-seon (Ji-Young Park), who the girls call “Auntie”, a friend of their late mother’s who runs a hotel, despite an ominous incident on the journey. Weird occurrences in the virtually empty hotel and nearby make Yoo-mi very uneasy, not to mention the ramblings of the tipsy maid Ye-rin (Park Hyo-joo), and she starts to look into places she shouldn’t.
The hotel – or at least its public areas – is beautiful, and Hyeong-bin Lee’s cinematography complements that all the way, especially with overhead shots and neat use of reflections. (Now if only I didn’t cite those as well-applied techniques so often: they’re beginning to become predictable.) The key problem with Lingering is that the plot just doesn’t live up to the film’s stylish appearance. It was essentially a series of episodes of Yoo-mi either being freaked out by something or investigating what had freaked her out, on her own or with a new acquaintance; but too often, these episodes didn’t tie together, or I just couldn’t tell what the latest subject of interest had to do with her at all.
Lingering is beautifully put together, but as it’s largely populated by highly-strung women and standard horror tropes, that might not be enough to keep you watching to the end… but you’ll need to if you want to see any blood.
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