“Phone” is a bit strange to review. On the one hand, it’s somehow garnered a hardcore group of fans who consider it to be a classic (and scary) film. On the other hand, as someone who’s seen probably an above average amount of Asian horror (for a Westerner), it’s completely obvious that it is so derivative of other films that it could not possibly have existed without them.
When I say derivative, I don’t mean that something feels like it might have been taken from another film; I mean that entire visuals and sequences have been lifted directly for use here (If you have seen “Dark Water” for example, you’ll recognize the bathroom scene). There are literally dozens of moments that feel like they were simply excised from previous movies and spliced into “Phone”. Even the green, vertically scrolling numbers from “The Matrix” make an appearance.
And yet – and here’s where it gets weird – I have to recommend “Phone” because, even though its visuals are completely unoriginal, the story is quite interesting and refreshing in a genre that, as of late, has had little to offer other than an attic full of long haired, female ghosts.
Ji-won is a journalist who has tired of writing about sex scandals, and longs to write a book. When a maniac, whom she helped to implicate, begins calling her cell phone, she takes the advice of some close friends (Ho-jeong and her husband Chang-hoon), changes her number, and moves to their second home for some R&R while she gets to work on her book. While there, her cell phone begins to ring again, but it’s the email she receives with a picture of her mutilated corpse that really gets her attention.
When she meets up with Ho-jeong later, her cell phone, which she has begun ignoring, rings again. Unfortunately, Ho-jeong’s little daughter Yeong-ju answers – and begins to scream in terror at what she hears…
What follows is pretty unusual stuff. Seo-woo Eun (as Yeong-ju) really steals the show as she begins changing in ways Mommy and Daddy (Daddy in particular) never expected. I don’t want to give anything away; part of what makes “Phone” work is its slow reveal in unraveling the mystery hidden in its tale. The movie, while displaying a forward timeline, unveils itself almost in reverse as it works backward toward the start. You’ll be surprised by at least one revelation, and there will be at least one more “I can’t believe they just did that!” moment.
There isn’t much replay value here though unless you’re relatively new to Asian horror. Fortunately, “Phone” offers more than just its stolen visuals. It’s worth watching for those who are looking for something a bit different.
And for those people who just want another long haired, female ghost? Oh yeah, she’s here too.
Pros: Unusually deep, genre-blending story. Seo-woo Eun is the best child actor I’ve seen in a horror flick (and she’s obviously having a blast). A ton of extras on the DVD that are (TA-DA!) subtitled!! Thanks, Tartan!!
Cons: The stalker plot could (and should) have been cut. Also, unless you’re a new convert to Asian horror flicks, it will all seem a bit too familiar visually. But you should still check it out once.
Review Rating: 3 out of 5 creepy kisses from your 4 year-old.
100 Minutes; South Korea
Rated R for violence/disturbing images and some sexual material.
Ji-won Ha (Ji-won)
Yu-mi Kim (Ho-jeong)
Woo-jae Choi (Chang-hoon)
Ji-yeon Choi (Jin-hie)
Seo-woo Eun (Yeong-ju)
Directed by: Byeong-ki Ahn
Viewing Format: DVD
(Originally published on HorrorWatch)