In the opening scene of “House of the Disappeared”, Mi-hee (played by Kim Yoon-jin) comes upon horror. Her husband has been stabbed, and her son is only briefly visible before unseen forces drag him off into the unknown. The authorities conclude that, somehow, Mi-hee was responsible for these crimes, and she comes out of prison twenty five years later an old woman, still muttering about the monstrous forces at work in her house. Father Choi (played by Taecyeon), an old family friend, hears Mi-hee out as she delves into her own memories, trying to find an answer.
It’s disappointing that Father Choi is not a more important character. As a relative outsider who is unsure whether or not to believe Mi-hee’s story, but with a definite motivation to find out what happened, his perspective is quite close to ours as a viewer. Since nearly every scene is taken from Mi-hee’s perspective, what we’re instead left with is a mystery with some sort of logical if paranormal explanation.
Mi-hee is poorly suited to investigate this mystery, convinced as she is that the house has murdered her family. Unable to think logically, yet never being quite so out of shape to qualify as insane, Mi-hee proves a decidedly generic protagonist. Her more potentially interesting mental issues are never at play as Mi-hee instead stumbles from one horrifying setpiece to the next unintentionally discovering analytical clues.
Genre issues notwithstanding, director Im Dae-woong can be quite good with horror of any stripe when the situation calls for it. The way with which certain apparently malevolent entities are able to appear and disappear from the house seemingly at random is really tense. Even when the jump scares are predictable, they still manage to be scary because they come at just the right final moment of silent calm.
The script even manages to have its moments, what with how the fear of the unknown is tied in to the past denizens of the house. Neither Mi-hee nor anyone else has anything to fear but fear itself. There’s a very fatalistic quality to the inability of any character to effectively communicate even basic warnings or explanations. Indeed, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to note that the house’s paranormal properties are far less a problem than the unwise way Mi-hee chooses to react to them.
…But yes, the spoiler issue. Once I figured out the mystery (and I always figure this stuff out pretty late), I got really, really impatient for the movie to end because, well, there just isn’t any emotional attachment to any of the characters. Mi-hee is the only one we learn about in any detail- everyone else is important only because of how they relate to her, but she doesn’t even show up in the final emotional reunion shot, where the emphasis inexplicably comes from a cameo. While “House of the Disappeared” has decent production values, interesting ideas, and even good continuity, as a whole, it’s less than the sum of its parts.
Review by William Schwartz
“House of the Disappeared” is directed by Im Dae-woong and features Kim Yoon-jin, Taecyeon and Jo Jae-yoon.
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House of the Disappeared