Just as your garden-variety horror fan will know J-Horror as the movies with the stringy-haired ghosts, your garden-variety Asian horror fan will probably associate K-Horror (Korean Horror) with schoolgirls. Disregarding the works of Bong Joon-Ho, (who, in truth centered his wonderful The Host around a schoolgirl) if you think of K-Horror you'll think of things like the Whispering Corridors series and come up a cropper of young chicks in knee-high stockings. My Bloody Roommates is no exception. It's pretty much the ultimate K-Horror schoolgirl saga. Yet, though it's the ultimate, it's not terribly scary, suspenseful or visceral - attributes that many look for when thinking of a horror film.
Opening in arch satirical fashion, Roommates displays a hopeless infomercial for a tiny college prep academy catering to girls on the brink of failure. Since getting the Best. Education. Possible. is so important in many Asian countries, this teasing testimonial hammers home the thin line between success and pushing a broom for a living. Our strictly Orwellian girls' school emphasizes conformity, physical punishment and fear. Competent teachers and gray sweat-suited students are lorded over by an icy headmistress and her enforcers. Oh, when will educators ever learn? Not only does one rebellious student (of a group of four roommates) attempt to smuggle in a pet hamster, but another also develops serious attitude while receiving horrific visions from the tragic fire that raced through the school three years earlier. Of course the headmistress sees fit to throw little miss rebel into lockdown in the very darkened room that's giving her these suspicious, bloody visions, and more or less there's your movie.
My Bloody Roommates presents a grim, desperate vision of the Korean education system, and is packed with powerful, effective performances. It even cooks up one or two scenes of cleverly constructed tension, such as a nifty interaction with a possibly animated corpse in the cafeteria and the aforementioned hamster terrorizing a roomful of students. But with all that's going on, including serial shifting from one roommate to the next as the four girls each get a turn playing lead, there's never enough time to focus in on one story or source of terror. Horrific visions go from the sublime - an entire locker room full of longhaired ghosts - to the mundane - yet more tracking shots wherein it's slowly revealed that there's a longhaired ghost standing behind someone.
Since these tropes are by now long-gone-tepid, and aren't pushed towards any limits, we're left to rely on acting and thematic significance. This is where cultural tourism comes into play, and I'm not really having it. Do I find undue pressure for good grades and 'success' to be troubling? Yes, but do I know, or even need to know, much about girls' school in Korea? Not so much. Moreover, how am I even able to discern good acting through reading subtitles and listening to a difficult language I don't understand? Well, chalk that up to being an Asian movie cultural tourist for some time now. If you're unprepared to peer behind the scrim of subtitles etc. you may miss these performances. The evil headmistress in particular gives a performance of disturbing steely control, while the rebel with visions convinces mightily. Even our hamster herder knocks out some true pathos. But in all, this K-Horror effort should be of only passing interest to those simply looking to enjoy anew the thrills of a Ringu or even Phone.
Non-anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1 ratio) renders the image small on your non-humongous flat-screen, an attribute not helped by the dim, grim, gray proceedings. In other words, this is an intentionally drab looking film that will unfortunately have you checking your eyesight. Detail levels are just adequate and sharpness, obviously, isn't great. Compression artifacts, however, are not a problem.
Stereo Audio balances out nicely, though since most viewers will be reading subtitles it's not of too much importance that music doesn't drown out dialog. Soundtrack elements that are often used to spooky, stealthy effect in other Asian horrors aren't significantly on display here.
Extras are limited to Trailers for all four (including this movie) in the 'Four Horrors' series of K-Horror films.
Powerful performances and a few craftily constructed suspense sequences don't overcome the fact the My Bloody Roommates isn't exactly what you'd expect. Creeping chills and visceral thrills are sacrificed for a diffusely plotted yet pretty serious examination of the pressures faced by Korean schoolgirls. To that end, you must judge how concerned you are with the lives of Korean schoolgirls, and just how devoted to Asian horror you are, before considering whether to Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com