Clash of the Tartans

STUDIO: Tartan Video
MSRP: $22.95
RUNNING TIME: 98 Minutes
Feature Commentary w/ director and cast
"Making-of" featurettes
Interviews with cast and music director
Deleted scenes

The Pitch

Renegade cop seeks SAM! You tried to rape me on a Silent Hill soundstage. Let’s meet.

Shy professional seeks high school sweetheart. Last saw you in the salt warehouse. You: being violently raped by a gang of unruly kids. Me: holding the camera.

The Humans

Song Yoon Ah, Lee Dong Wook. (Shit, have we completely lost the hyphens now? I can’t follow South Korean naming conventions for the life of me.)

The Nutshell

Detective So-Young and her newbie partner get stuck investigating a series of murders linked by cause of death, which is in all cases apparently an ingested acid of some sort. The deaths are linked in other ways, as well: the victims all were close friends, and all participated in a gruesome act which I have already spoiled above. Unfortunately for them, So-Young’s not the only slightly-built, dark-haired female out to get them.

My high school prom date was a ghost.

The Lowdown

In order to distinguish Arang from any number of other ghost/vengeance tales, I’m going to have to spoil quite a bit of the plot. The nugget revealed above isn’t actually that big of a spoiler, since it is suggested from very early on in the story, and confirmed before much longer. You can pretty much skip the rest of this review if you don’t want to know anything else, since the bland story features no other crevices in which to anchor my criticism. Do you have a fetish for Asian horror-mill flicks? You don’t need me at all, then.

Here’s the big spoiler, which sets Arang apart from its peers, and which, consequently, serves as its only point of interest: There are no ghosts. Well, maybe one, but the creature that attacks and murders all the victims on So-Young’s list is nothing more monstrous than a human being capable of inducing hallucinations in his victims. What that means, from a story standpoint, is that guilt is the ultimate killer for boys who couldn’t keep it in their pants.

Boys, this is what happens when you flog the bishop once too often.
No, that’s not your hand.

I’m all for the blending of crime and horror genres; it’s fun, in an X-Files-y way, to watch rationality go up against the incomprehensible. But in order to pull it off, the real world has to be believable. The conceit of planting the exact same hallucination in the brains of every one of the victims stretches that credibility. Any remaining audience interest in suspending the disbelief gets whittled away by the ridiculously unimaginative death sequences. The stings, jump scares, and creepy black hair are all out in force, but it’s getting to the point where they are just cultural artifacts, and no longer possess any cinematic power.

It also doesn’t help Arang‘s case that the last act is just one elongated Mexican standoff between three characters. It wears out its welcome quickly, especially when the audience hasn’t had the opportunity to invest much of anything in one of the characters. A second character has effectively reduced himself to a gibbering child, which removes his dramatic impact. What you’re left with is roughly twenty minutes of a standoff in which only one character is remotely interesting. That’s not tense; that’s just bad odds.

A magical place, full of wonder and the bodies of unwed mothers!
Oh, salt, what aren’t you good for?

Perhaps Arang could be redeemed by a clarification of its folk-tale origins. Unfortunately, the tale in question isn’t provided translated on the disc, so attacking from that perspective (which is one of my favorites) won’t do any good. Like Shutter, Arang is a moral horror story, but bothers not a bit to communicate anything worthwhile either in the realms of morality or horror.

The Package

It’s a Tartan disc, so you know it’s good. Director Ahn Sang Hoon provides commentary, along with select members of the cast, in the technical mode. A bit more about the Arang myth is mentioned, but with the assumption that the listener is already familiar with the story. I might actually have to research this thing.

The disc has promotional interviews with the cast, as well as with the musical director, and a brief spattering of deleted scenes.

4 out of 10