Saturday, December 16, 2023

Curses and Epitaphs: The Ghost Station (2023) Review

Director: Jeong Yong-ki

Notable Cast: Kim Bo-ra, Kim Jae-hyun, Shin So-yul, Oh Jin-seok


As the old adage goes, what’s old will always be new again. The same is very relevant for film cycles and, if I’m being honest, the resurrection of the various trends in horror from the early 00s has been a delight. 


When The Ghost Station first crossed my path, the fact that it was co-written by Hiroshi Takahashi (Ring, Ring 2, Ju On Origins) and Koji Shiraishi (Noroi, Carved, Sadako Vs. Kayako) is what caught my eye. The sheer amount of awesome J-horror films that those two have crafted in the last 30 years is essentially jaw-dropping - so the two coming together to work on this one immediately caught my attention.


Fortunately, Well Go USA picked up The Ghost Station for distribution in the US, and it’s a welcome addition at the end of the year. The Ghost Station is pure 00s J-Horror through and through, wrapping up classic inspirations into a love letter of spooks, spins, and spiritual horror hijinks. Its mileage will vary drastically depending on your love of the throwback J-Horror. Mainly since this is a Korean film and some expectations come with that, but it also suffers from some of the same drawbacks that hindered the genre back then. Still, it was a pleasant trip down nostalgia lane that hit many of the right buttons. 


Like many of these ghostly curse films, The Ghost Station never hides from the tropes. Its narrative follows a young journalist (naturally), played by Kim Bo-ra, as she finds herself in a tight squeeze at work to deliver the next viral news sensation. In desperation, this leads her to start looking into a local suicide at an old Oksu station and a little ghostly girl (naturally) that is appearing there. With the help of a couple of friends who work at the station, she unravels a series of connected deaths (naturally) that may or may not stem from a curse on the station itself. 


At this point, just reading my own synopsis of this film might as well be playing MadLibs with the J-Horror blueprint. Journalists, little ghost children, a cursed place, and a mystery that needs to be solved to release their spirits from, you guessed it, a well. Yet, instead of feeling like a knockoff of superior J-Horror classics like Ring or Ju-On, The Ghost Station feels far more like a love letter to them. Sure, an abandoned well plays a role in the story, but it fits into its narrative to some extent with the mystery. Yes, there’s a cure that is passed on to people who enter the “area,” but the scratches that appear on the people and the ghostly children jump scares are fun even if it never reaches the genuine unease and anxiety of the Grudge series. For fans of the genre, there’s plenty of fun to be had in “find the reference” in its narrative, even as it starts to drag out a bit too long in the second act. 


The big obstacle that The Ghost Station struggles with is that there seems to be a lot of humor buried in the script, which isn’t surprising considering Shiraishi is involved and embedded a fantastic sense of humor into both Sadako Vs. Kayako and Carved, and director Jeong Yong-ki seemingly underplays so much of it. From the off-putting undertaker who seems to know way more about the mystery than he lets on to the almost overzealously evil editor for our protagonist that throws down massive “asshole boss” vibes throughout, the film is littered with dark humor that the film never plays up. Considering how much fun those performances seem to be on top of it all, it's an odd choice and one that The Ghost Station struggles with. 


Besides its familiar narrative beats and some fun secondary performances, The Ghost Station gets a few great scare moments into the mix for fans. The opening sequence promises more fun kills than the film ultimately provides, but the film smartly keeps up the body count, and some great moments pop up. In particular, a bathroom sequence (it’s always in the bathroom, huh) really stands out and showcases some fun visuals.


Going into The Ghost Station, fans need to temper their expectations. It’s not the expensive-looking and tightly wound horror South Korea is known for exporting, but it feels like a lower-budget J-Horror from 2005. Its throwback look carries over to its narrative as it embeds its story and characters with references to the genre classics and only really misses out in embracing the offbeat humor that is present throughout.  While it’s easy to see that The Ghost Station might not catch on for most horror fans, it grabs the nostalgia of the early 00s J-Horror boom in a fun and entertaining way. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

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