Judge Russell Engebretson has decided he would rather not ever wake up dead.
The sound of terror before you die.
Young-eon (Ok-bin Kim) awakens from a nightmare and finds herself in a ghostly state, unable to leave the high-school building in which she presumably died. The only person she can communicate with is her friend Sun-min (Ji-hye Seo) who enlists the help of the unpopular but paranormally gifted Cho-ah (Ye-ryon Cha) to plumb the mystery of Young-eon's newly acquired existence as a revenant.
Young-eon is a shy, emotionally troubled soprano whose mother has recently died. Her superb singing voice seems to have made her the music teacher's pet, but there is malicious gossip among some of her high-school peers that the relationship may not be strictly platonic. At the start of the film we find Young-eon alone at the school after hours practicing in the music room. After hearing a soft voice singing along with her, she is menaced by a shadowy figure that follows her as she flees into the red-lit hallway. In a dreamlike tableau, a page of sheet music hovers and glides down the hall toward Young-eon, only to suddenly accelerate and pierce her throat. She awakens in the music room in early morning daylight, but what she at first believes to be only a bad dream turns out to be a symbolic projection of her real death.
To reveal any more would be a disservice to the reader. The film's suspense is dependent on mystery, and the mystery is not only about what really happened to Young-eon, but what motivates the characters; the secrets they each hide from one another; the secrets they hide even from themselves. The surprises come thick and fast in the latter third of the movie.
Voice is the fourth in a loosely connected series of South Korean films (Yeogo go Dam) that revolve around the theme of haunted all-girl schools. Director and co-writer Ik-hwan Choe has crafted a dreamy suspense setting with the artful use of cinematography that does not detract from the story. It's a beautiful film to look at, awash in warm reddish browns and sepia tones. The art-house editing style lends an air of surrealism to the movie without becoming pretentious, although a few scenes are drawn out too long and could have done with a bit more trimming. An elevator scene of a frightened Sun-min and Young-eon, for instance, in which the camera tracks backwards into blackness with mysterious, squiggly red lines flickering at the edges of the frame is effective, but some of the tension is deflated by its length.
Another less than stellar moment, more amusing than scary, occurs when a school-full of screaming, uniformed Korean high-school girls dash for the exits in full panic mode. Despite the occasional stumble, the movie manages to remain creepy and sustain a low-intensity feeling of dread throughout most of its running time. It also manages to deliver several sucker punches that few viewers will see coming, right up to the end before the credits roll. In fact, a second viewing might be required to absorb and comprehend all the interlocking elements of the story.
The DVD sports good color saturation and detail, but inexplicably for a recent film has a number of white specks and spots popping up at random intervals. The occasional speckling is not bad enough to detract from the decent anamorphic transfer, but makes one wonder what happened in the quality control department. The sound effects and an excellent piano score are well-served by crisp and clear audio, but the sound is in 2.0 Dolby Digital rather than the 5.1 as stated on the keepcase.
Extras are slim, with only a trailer and a 25 minute featurette; however, the quasi-documentary feature—no one ever directly addresses the audience—is a fascinating look into the shooting of three different scenes that required some rigorous physical efforts from the actresses involved (or in the case of the music teacher's death by cello strings, we can replace "rigorous" with "brutal").
The disgusting DVD cover art of a blood soaked hand extruding from an Asian girl's mouth is completely misleading (except symbolically). Voice is a supernatural ghost story with only a few brief gore effects. Gore hounds will be disconcerted with the lack of blood bags, exploding squibs, while the target audience—those who prefer a more cerebral supernatural film—will quite likely be repulsed by the cover and miss out on a fine Korean spook film that is closer in spirit to Shutter (the Thai version, not the American remake) or A Tale of Two Sisters. If you're up for a creepy and intelligent ghost story, don't let the cover dissuade you from a rental.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Behind the Scenes Featurette
Review content copyright © 2008 Russell Engebretson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.