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Genius Products // Unrated // July 15, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted July 30, 2008 | E-mail the Author
If David Lynch focused his efforts on the Asian horror genre, then Voice would probably be a part of his canon. As a far-cried supplement to the Whispering Corridors series, that which includes the solid entry Memento Mori, Rookie director Ik-hwan Choe's creepy high-school ghost film only mirrors its predecessors in theme. When it comes to visual tonality and captured intensity, this is easily the more terse entry in the series and a writhing ghost story that stands apart from many of the monotonous "scary long-haired chick" horror films from the past few years.

The Film:

Voice does still follow the typical genre formula, however. You know the recipe: a creepy school environment, usually involving a multitude of bubbly schoolgirls, suffers a death in their student body -- Young-eon. The closest person to the deceased, in this case Sun-min, suddenly begins to interact with their spectral remains as they walk the hallways of their campus. As their relationship grows tighter and the two conduct some investigation on the death, certain spooky and, at times, violent activity starts to rustle up from the foundation of the school as they grow closer and closer to the truth. And, to this day, it's a step-by-step design that still works under the right conditions.

To understand that the film will follow along at such a preconceived, tried-and-true pace helps to open Voice up to the elements that make it a strong deviation from those formulaic steps. For starters, we instantly get face time with Young-eon after her death. She's not some mysterious entity to both us and the main character's plights; she seems "normal" to us, which allows other elements of fright to stretch into Voice's narrative flow. As she speaks to Sun-min and starts to piece together the mysterious actions that take place at the school, focus begins to hone in on their relationship as the reason behind Young-eon's lingering presence.

As more lives fall from the menacing aura surrounding the school and Young-eon draws closer to the convolution that keeps her at the school, Ik-hwan Choe's film rapidly approaches the mind-screw levels achieved by the likes of Lynch's Lost Highway and Marc Forster's Stay. Not just in cinematography, though each frame of Voice looks like it was dipped in the same vat of tea leaves before the editing process like each of those films. The complicated levels of metaphysical twists in this picture exhibit both sensibility and inexplicability, purely because each connection across these boundaries makes sense in the ghostly world that Young-eon exists in. The screwed-up plot kinks that twist and turn with the story manage to keep speed with our interest level in Voice, never leaving our contemplating minds stranded in an apathetic stupor.

One of the clever devices that separate Voice from its counterparts comes in its concentration upon noise, both in music form and vocal. Much of it is for pure atmosphere, such as the falsetto vocal performances early on and the sinister notes of a stringed instrument billowing through the echoic classrooms. But within these surface techniques lies the root of the title, voices, and the ability to hear those whispering from the netherworld. Early on, we're introduced to Sun-min speaking over the school's intercom for all to hear, which is essentially setting us up for reciprocity for her to only hear the voices from her friend. As a connective element, the performances from the supporting cast as they interact with Young-eon's silence is chilling and rather affective. Alongside wind chimes clanking through the hallways and the "heart throbbing" in the two girls' safe spot in the boiler room of the school, Voice makes itself heard loud and clear as an aural freak-out.

But much like the masterful A Tale of Two Sisters and other Korean horror films like Cello, Voice isn't particularly scream-worthy. Instead, there's a level of discomforting eeriness that envelops this peculiar mystery. It's just that -- a spectral murder mystery with deep roots in ethereal separation and the sadness that follows. As we learn more about Young-eon's past, especially the haunting words that she speaks to her ill mother, there's insight into her writhing essence that keeps her from being able to pass on into the next world. That's probably the most intriguing portion of Voice; it's the closest that we get to an apparition this side of the Sixth Sense, though it's no big secret that our lead character is a spirit. Ultimately, amid the finite stretches of the school and the audible elements that bounce within its expanses, Ik-hwan Choe's sepia-stained addition to a long-running series is quite the solid rehash of their played-out concept.

The DVD:

Voice comes from Genius Products with an oddly representative slipcover, one that you just can't trust as an accurate portrayal of the movie. It's nowhere near as bloody as the front cover implies, but at least it's well done in a morbid kind of way.

The Video:

Voice's 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation is an odd one to judge, as the source material seems to be grainy as hell and completely coated in brownish hues. When you peer through the haze, however, there's a lot of beauty to dust off of this intentionally muddy print. That becomes apparent during some of the metaphysical scenes when a slew of white magic "speckles" float along the screen. Now, the image isn't free of dust blips, as they frequently pop up in some darker parts of the image. But overall, considering the intentional degradation, this unique image in Voice is bizarrely appealing.

The Audio

No matter how you flip this, the lack of a 5.1 surround track on Voice is a disappointment. It's a sound-based film that could really stun with a three-dimensional soundstage, but its Korean 2.0 surround track actually sounds pretty good. No matter if you keep the sound on the front speakers or matrixed back with ProLogic II capabilities, there's plenty of hollow sounds and gentle effects to soak in within this audio track. Vocal clarity and the numerous echoes I mention in the review sound surprisingly solid here. Naturally I'd prefer a natural 5.1 track, but Voice's audio does a good job of making up for this absence. Only optional English subtitles are available to pair up with the sole Korean track.

The Extras:

As per the norm, this Genius foreign DVD is a bit light on the extras. However, it does include some substance surrounding Voice where it counts:

Behind the Scenes Featurette:
When they say "behind the scenes" for this featurette, they mean it; roughly 23 minutes of action behind the camera is captured here that focuses on scene specific portions. It's guided by these chapters, but otherwise is directionless bits without any accompanying music or interview portions. However, you get to have a keyhole view into the set, both during filming and further behind in the make-up rooms and such. Which is interesting, to degrees, but really should have a skip function to jump ahead to different bits from the film. Still, this raw footage is a subtle outlook in how Voice was assembled.

Alongside this featurette is a non-anamorphic Theatrical Trailer.


Final Thoughts:

Voice takes the waning ghostly formula and injects it with an artful shot of adrenaline. It's still chained down a bit by the blueprint set by its predecessors, but Il-hwak Cho's take on the idea does it with enough gusto so that it's worth it for Asian horror film fans -- as well as fans of mind-benders in general. Genius Products' disc is attractive visually, but lacks in supplemental material and aural properties. The disc is well worth a Rental just for the film alone, possibly more if you're a hardcore aficionado of the genre.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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