J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

PDXFF ’17: Wol-ha—Very Bad Moon Rising

It would sort of be like collecting some of the orange carpeting from The Shining or the puzzle box from Hellraiser, except the grave of the kisaeng done wrong in the 1967 Korean horror movie A Public Cemetery of Wol-ha is very much real. At least one mysterious collector believes so. He has tasked a private investigator and his part-time assistant with retrieving the vengeful kisaeng’s grave stone. In the history of bad horror movie ideas, this sounds like one of the worst, but the team still does its best to fulfill its obligations in Oh In-chun’s Wol-ha: Very Bad Moon Rising (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Portland Film Festival.

Thanks to the rise of found footage horror, videographers now have the world’s most dangerous job. Just ask Aaron from the first Creep. Now it is Yang Jun-il’s turn. He has been hired by Kang Chun-sik to document his mission. They must obtain the headstone of the very late Lee Wol-hyang, as seen in A Public Cemetery, by the end of the day, or contractual penalties will incur. However, her true resting place is someplace in the remote mountains, where cell service is sure to be iffy.

In addition to Yang, Kang has brought his junior gofer Park Han-su and they are stuck with the standoffish Masami, the weirdo client’s resentful assistant. Apparently, the client also arranged a guide, Lee Jun-seop, who happens to share a surname and the hometown of the grudge-wielding kisaeng.

There is something very wrong about this Lee, starting with his aggressively annoying sense of humor. Kang and Masami-san can at least find common ground in their distaste for him. Even though he seems to know exactly where they are, he gets them all thoroughly lost. With the daylight burning, bad things are heading our troupe’s way. Of course, we’re talking about stalkery bedlam and madness of some sort.

Very Bad Moon will definitely inspire viewers to catch up with the 1967 film, which is definitely a good sign. It also manages to breathe life into the found footage genre. Oh turns loose several extreme characters are reaps the resulting chaos. You will want to slap the nauseatingly arrogant Kang, roll your eyes at the petulant Masami, and throttle the obnoxious Lee.

That might not sound like fun, but strong reactions are usually the result of an effective film. Such is the case with Moon, which gets decidedly creepy when the sun goes down. Oh makes quite a nice pivot, taking all the nervous energy from the awkward comedy of the first two acts and funneling it into some really unsettling Blair Witch-style business.

Usually, you do not get much character development in found footage, but Moon has all kinds of messy character. To its credit, the small ensemble chews the scenery like mad. It is definitely one of the better let’s-document-this horror movies of recent vintage, up there with 1974 and JeruZalem, making it dramatically superior to the Blair Witch reboot/sequel. Highly recommended for genre fans, Wol-ha: Very Bad Moon Rising screens tonight (11/1), as part of this year’s Portland Film Festival.

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