Judge Joel Pearce isn't sure of anything anymore.
Love is the kiss of death
Despite some beautiful and chilling sequences, Epitaph is evidence that horror and arthouse sensibilities don't combine well. Here, there are plenty of frightening moments, but they are not tied together by any sort of reason. In fact, the movie makes no sense at all.
Facts of the Case
I'm actually quite fuzzy on the details of this film. Much of it takes place at a morgue, where mysterious ghostly things are happening. There is also a serial killer investigation going on, which connects through several of the characters.
As happens quite often with Asian ghost movies, Epitaph is a ghost story that doesn't strictly need to be one. None of its power comes from the generic, highly typical shock sequences, which are too much like sequences we've seen in countless other films. They are well filmed, and provide a few sharps scares, but they tend to distract from the fascinating story running beneath them.
That story, told in splintered segments spanning decades, takes a close look at guilt, loss, and the nature of memory. Once the film gets rolling, we see this tale as it would be remembered, with segments that could be dream or reality, rolled together with narration and the awkward assembly of several perspectives. It takes quite a while to connect to any of the characters, since we are given little to go on from the beginning. I found this the greatest barrier to enjoying the film, as I spend the first 30 minutes confused, frustrated and bored.
That confusion never completely goes away, though some viewers will find that the rich visuals and fascinating characters are worth the frustration. The confusion never completely goes away, however, and it is soon joined by something even worse: a completely illogical surprise ending. In full Sixth Sensian style, it is even combined with a set of flashbacks to explain everything that's happened in the film, except that it really doesn't explain anything. It's a little like the ending to a different film.
The Korean film industry has delivered several of the best horror movies in the past few years. They have a tendency to combine clever psychology with well-timed shocks, tempered by a hearty dose of gore. Epitaph attempts to continue in that tradition, but those three key elements fail to come together here in a meaningful way.
I'm equally disappointed by the transfer on the DVD. The video transfer is dark, but not in the way it should be. Many of the details are washed out by black, and there are also hints of edge enhancement at times. The audio is better, though it is a bit bland at times. The mix of the dialogue is low, and sometimes difficult to hear. There are also a number of inconsistencies in the subtitles, which doesn't help my confusions with the script. There are no special features on the disc.
I can't really recommend Epitaph to anyone. It's a beautiful but illogical mess, a complete failure as a horror film.
Epitaph has been found guilty, and sentenced to death—twice.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
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