Hidden Floor is that kind of manipulative horror movie that we realize is just jerking us around with its jump scares and weird noises and freaky looking dead women wandering around, but love anyway. This is fairly standard Korean horror material, with a haunted apartment building and some horrible misdeed done in the past imposing itself on the present. It is executed so effectively, though, that the standard issue plot is not a bother. Hidden Floor provides buckets of scares and a solid hour and a half of entertainment.
Single mom Chae Min-Young moves in to a new apartment building with her daughter Juhee in the hopes that it will make her life easier with its proximity to her job. She wasn't counting on the evil spirits that inhabit the building and kill people to assuage their frustrated anger. And where do these spirits live? On the hidden fourth floor. Apparently, in Korea people don't like the number four, because it sounds like the Chinese word for death. So, much like the thirteenth floor in American buildings, the fourth floor is sometimes skipped over when counting floors in apartment and office buildings. The elevator goes right from three to five in Min-Young's building. The spirits seem to live in the nonexistent apartment 404, which is right between Min-Young's apartment 504 and the creepy drug addict in 304. He always complains about the loud noises from upstairs, even though Min-Young and Juhee are very quiet.
There are numerous deaths in the building, all of which seem to be from accidents. A man is crushed in a malfunctioning elevator, a girl falls down the stairs and so on. What is more disturbing to Min-Young is her daughter's increasingly erratic behavior. Juhee will spend hours listening to noises from the floor below, with her ear pressed to the ground, or stare at static on the television, or stab her dolls with hypodermic needles she picks up somewhere. She also breaks out into sores from asbestos exposure, even though the building is only a few years old and there should be no asbestos around. When Min-Young wants to move out, Juhee defiantly declares, "I will never leave this place."
Min-Young of course delves into the mystery surrounding the building trying to discover the explanation for all the strange goings on, and of course no one will believe the ghost centered theory that she comes up with. When the final evil secret is revealed it turns out to not be terribly interesting or original, but the viewer is past caring, having been treated to over an hour of jump scares, tension and general creepiness. What makes Hidden Floor work is not radical inventiveness or a new vision of horror cinema, it is doing the same old thing very, very well. Lots of movies try to disquiet and startle their viewers, but Hidden Floor succeeds. It does this in a lot of ways. First off, the two main protagonists, the single mother and her daughter, are incredibly likeable. Juhee could be a catalog image for a cute youngster, up until the blank stares and lesions start appearing, anyway. And Min-Young's dilemma, trying to focus enough on her job to keep it while still spending enough time with her young daughter, is realistically and empathetically portrayed.
Sound is also effectively used, from the unnatural, amped up creaks and screeching every time a jump scare is thrown out, to the bone grinding crack of the ghost woman as she shuffles down the hallway at the corner of our vision. The sound is often sudden and startling, and makes us wary of what is around the next corner, or what will appear over someone's shoulder when they move away. It's all very manipulative and clichéd, but deliciously so. Strange children and hideous, long haired ghosts wandering around bent on revenge are nothing new, but a lot of fun when done well. Hidden Floor does it well, and is one to watch for fans of Asian horror who want to turn their brain off for ninety minutes and enjoy some atavistic thrills.
The video is presented in widescreen 1.33:1, and does have some quality issues, but no major ones. Most of the issues are present in night scenes. There is some heavy posterization in the background colors, particularly around the edges of the image. Also, night time scenes tend to be a bit murky, with shadows threatening to overwhelm the action. We always manage to figure out what is going on, but a slightly higher contrast would have helped a lot. During daytime scenes, the image is crisp and clear, with a muted color palette that fits with the overall feel of the film.
The sound is presented in Dolby 2 channel. It does not have any particular quality issues, but is disappointing. Sound plays such an important role in Hidden Floor that a skillfully executed 5.1 channel mix would have enhanced the experience greatly. As it stands, the sound is unobjectionable, with clear dialogue and music. English subtitles are available, but cannot be turned off, and they do have the occasional grammatical error. No alternate language track is available.
There are not a lot of extras included on this disc. There are trailers for the four "K-Horror Series" films available from Pathfinder: Hidden Floor, My Bloody Roommates, The Curse of February 29th, and Dark Forest of Death.
There are also trailers for four other, unrelated films: The Asylum, The Abortion, Basic Tsukamoto, and Beneath the Flesh. The trailers are interesting, though Hidden Floor's made the film look much worse than it actually is, but other extra material would have been welcome.
Hidden Floor is light on extra material, and could look and sound a bit better. And it is manipulative and treads a well worn horror film path, barely straying from what is expected. However, it presents the same old thing very well, and is unrelenting in its efforts to frighten and disquiet its viewers. The acting and plot function well enough to suit the purpose of providing buckets of creeping flesh and sudden scares. In short, the film is nothing extraordinary, but loads of fun for the horror movie fan. Heartily recommended for that purpose.