It’s been a while since I last watched a Korean horror film, mainly because there just aren’t that many being screened in a year. Interestingly, The Closet is labelled under the genres “mystery” and “drama” instead of “horror”. You’ll understand why when you watch the movie – there were so many different elements to it that it wouldn’t really fit under the “horror” genre per se. Which is why I believe that even those who aren’t fans of horror flicks would enjoy it!
[Please note that there may be spoilers ahead!]
The movie begins with an old recording of an exorcism which takes place in 1998. The recording ends with the shaman slitting her own throat. Talk about a strong start. We then shift to the present day with Sang Won (played by Ha Jung Woo) driving his daughter Ina (played by Heo Yool) to their new house in the countryside. We can tell that their relationship is strained, with Ina barely paying attention to anything Sang Won says, despite his best attempts to connect with her.
In the midst of moving things into the new house, Sang Won is startled when a crow slams its body against the window, and he goes into a panic attack. We learn that his family was involved in a car accident which killed his wife, and probably led to his strained relationship with his daughter. At dinnertime, Ina barely touches her food before leaving the dining table after her dad picks up a work call. It seems like Sang Won is a workaholic who doesn’t spend enough time with his daughter.
We see Ina crying watching videos of her mum, before hearing strange sounds coming from her closet… *cue screams* Sang Won rushes to her room when he hears her screams but was greeted by a very calm Ina who appeared confused by him asking her if anything was wrong. She insisted that she wasn’t screaming. It’s the first time we see her talking to her dad. Good sign… or not? Soon, Ina seems to be completely transformed – eating well and enjoying her time in the house with her “friend”, even hugging Sang Won at one point to thank him for the move. Strange vibes.
Despite Sang Won’s desire to mend his relationship with his daughter, his workaholic self could not bear to have his project possibly taken over by another architect so he decides to move on-site for work, much to Ina’s anger and unhappiness. He sees the aftermath of her anger – a broken violin, cut-up teddy bear, scratched furniture… Then we see her with a penknife by the pond, apparently having slit the throat of a crow. I’m officially scared of children.
The nanny Sang Won hires to take care of Ina soon arrives and he leaves for a site recce. But after just a few hours with Ina, the nanny is creeped out and quits. We then see Ina begging the closet to take her, before she suddenly gets pulled in. Sang Won returns to an empty house and after a month without any leads, he is desperate and turns to the media for help, making a public appeal on national broadcast…
…which was seen by Kyung Hoon (played by Kim Nam Gil). We see scars on his palms which look like obvious healed wounds from cuts – a hint of his occupation. On the pretext of finding out the issue with the home internet (we later learn that he had cut the wires), he enters Sang Won’s home with a “ghost detector” tool. After confirming his suspicions, he tells Sang Won that his daughter is still in the house, but in the other realm. The realm of the dead. Kyung Hoon tells him that one can only survive in the other realm for 49 days, so they were left with only three days to save Ina before she dies for real. And thus begins the real “adventure” – to defeat the evil spirit who’s been “stealing” children for over a decade via their closets and bring Ina back.
Are you intrigued? Feeling slightly spooked? I honestly decided to watch this movie based on blind trust that Kim Nam Gil would pick a good script and well, I wasn’t disappointed. I particularly liked the way he portrayed Kyung Hoon as a very relatable character. When you think of exorcists, you’d probably picture a serious, fierce-looking, somewhat out-of-this-world character. But not Kyung Hoon. He’s human like the rest of us, albeit with an interesting occupation. This human enjoys watching movies (like Along with the Gods starring Ha Jung Woo, ha!), eating ramen, having a can of beer or two and… needing to pee in the middle of a really long car journey… He provides the comedic elements in the movie which is a welcome relief to those who aren’t horror movie buffs.
I mentioned that the movie began with an old recording of an exorcism. We learn later on that the shaman in the video is Kyung Hoon’s mum and that the reason he’s so invested in solving this case is because he saw his mother being killed by this evil spirit in front of his very own eyes. Yep, Kyung Hoon was the kid in the corner playing the drums. Ouch.
Throughout the movie you’ll experience a range of emotions – from fear to heaviness, from sadness to relief… There are moments to go OH MY GOD, moments to laugh, moments to close your eyes or scream, moments to feel choked up.
But it was a particular line in the movie that stuck to me. It was said by Myungjin’s dad before he killed her (yes in the closet). “Just breathing isn’t considered living. We’ll be happier dead instead of living life like this.” It was during the Asian Financial Crisis and in despair over finances, he had decided to kill his family before committing suicide (which he eventually didn’t). It was so tragic and depressing and it suddenly made sense why Myungjin became an evil spirit who takes away children who are in “abusive” situations. Yes people, emotional abuse and neglect are also forms of abuse.
Thankfully the movie didn’t end on that note! Ina was saved, she got to meet a “kind ahjusshi” like Kyung Hoon and spend more time with her father. Happy ending! Or is it? In the last scene of the movie, we see one of the ghost children standing by the gates of a house… Dun dun dun.
Check out the trailer below (no English subtitles):