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Voice is just a flat-out bizarre release, but what do I know, right? After all, this is just my opinion, but I'm going to try and give you my well-considered reasons for that opinion and let you make the final judgment. There, that's my mini-treatise on the art of the critique. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did enjoy it, then you will probably get where this review is coming from. In Voice we have a poorly marketed movie, one that seriously misrepresents its subject - pointing it toward a crowd of people that is tired of what Voice is purportedly selling, and a crowd that will find something entirely different than what they think they don't want anyway.
From the 'unrated' gory cover art depicting a pair of bloody hands wrenching themselves out from inside an Asian girl's mouth, to slogan 'the sound of terror before you die' to the box description noting a 'blood-curdling voice crying out for revenge' - everything is all wrong. Bored J-horror aficionados lazily reaching for what they hope will be a graphic horror with more of the usual longhaired shambling phantoms are in for a shock. Or maybe not, since as J-horror aficionados they might recognize Voice as the fourth in a series of Korean teenybopper shriekers known under the umbrella name of the Whispering Corridors series. That's right, if you're a Korean high-school girl, this movie is for you. That leaves a large percentage of the hoped-for audience standing in the rain, dunnit? But false lures don't hide so much a surprise as they hide a thoughtful curiosity that, while short on scares, at least approaches things from a really weird angle.
Voice has many earmarks of a 'number four' movie. Though I have not seen any other Whispering Corridors movies, it seems to me that Voice has shed much of the need to toe a franchise party line, and is free to experiment. As such, it's moderately successful. Avoiding plot-twists will make this a short synopsis, so let's just say that Voice tells the story of girls mixed-up in typical high-school girl stuff: cruel recriminations, innuendo, torment-without-remorse, and forbidden love. Sun-min has a haunted or haunting friend, Young-eon, an even weirder acquaintance, Cho-ah, who's on some strange wavelength, and a lusty, jealous voice teacher who gets strung-up in all kinds of nonsense. Layers of deception and multiple stabs at vengeance mean by movie's end most will be a tad confused, but with heaps of poetic, mournful loss and abandonment, even middle-aged American men will know what it feels like to be an outcast girl in high-school.
Voice starts out well enough, with a Kiyoshi Kurosawa-styled scene of suspense, as one of our heroines is stalked, at night, through empty hallways, by a slow-walking presence. It's the last dreadful scare of the whole movie, though. We do get three or four somewhat bloody deaths, but nothing that wouldn't be out of place on primetime network TV nowadays. Meanwhile, 'unrated, blood-curdling terror' is replaced by leisurely, eerie, teenaged melodrama, making Voice about as potent as an R.L. Stine after-school special. Though lacking real scares, a middling level of bubbling dread accompanies truly labyrinthine levels of who-betrayed-and-who-is-haunting-who plot threads, confusing stuff that does its best to defuse any tension left over from the non-proprietary plot. In other words, this movie probably isn't for you.
But for some of those J-horror aficionados who appreciate the slow-and-mournful (like the obviously and somewhat jarringly boy-sung aria that anchors the film) will enjoy most the four or five excellent performances that give this Voice depth. For a fairly confusing, relatively tepid Asian Horror Film (made for teenaged Korean girls, if you forgot) Voice is quite gifted by nothing less than totally heartfelt, truly sad turns. Whatever it is these girls are feeling when running from deceitful shadows, you feel it when looking in their weary eyes.
Awash in mostly red light, Voice looks appropriately moody and primal, like the emotions on display. It's a widescreen presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs that is meant to preserve the original theatrical ratio. This is neither the best nor worst looking transfer. Of course the predominance of red posed problems for my set, with lots of halos on the outlines of our heroines' forms. Overall, the image is slightly soft, and a bit noisy, with film grain cropping up in backgrounds. Some film damage appears during the credits sequence, a problem that either diminishes or becomes for other reasons unnoticeable as the film progresses. The barest hints of heavy noise reduction appear at times, especially during dynamic shots of girls running down darkened hallways. It's almost as if you can feel the image becoming a bit shifty, even if it doesn't actually fall over that particular edge.
Korean Language Audio of the Dolby Digital 5.1 variety is terrifically moody and evocative. Lots of weird, skittery voices and noises haunt the periphery of the 3D audio image, things that will give you the creeps. A great score touts throaty, deep bell sounds, that spooky aria, and tinkling chimes, while occasional digitally boosted sound effects add oomph.
There aren't a whole bunch of extras. English Language Subtitles are a help for Western ears. The Theatrical Trailer probably makes things seem more punchy than they are, and a 23-minute Behind The Scenes Featurette is about as basic as those things come, with four set pieces getting the handy-cam treatment. We get to see almost in real time how some of the spooky scenes were shot, with little to nothing in the way of explicatory audio, save director's commands, crew and actors responses, and once or twice the behind-the-scenes cameraman asking the actors what is going on. Interesting in a detached, fly-on-the-wall kind of way.
Voice is a moody, mildly disturbing horror thriller pretty much directed at an audience comprised of the type of characters in the film: Korean high-school girls. Don't believe the graphic hype of the DVD box - this doesn't seem like an unrated cut (at least to my eyes it merits no more than a PG-13, so we'll chalk it up to cultural differences). At any rate, shuffling, longhaired J-horror-style phantoms are really a non-issue, and graphic horror is not the raison d'etre. Voice does a great, languid job of making you feel like an alienated teenager in a cruel culture of off-handedly disparaging kids, however, and the sadly vacant stares and arresting performances of the lead actors mark this a cut above its station. Asian horror fans looking for something off the well-beaten path could do worse than to Rent It.