Thursday, June 27, 2024

Bite Sized Frights: Tastes of Horror (2024) Review

Directors: Ahn Sang-hoon, Yoon Een-Kyoung, Kim Yong-gyun, Lim Dae-woong, Chae Yeo-jun

Notable Cast: Chang Seung-yeon, Oh Seung-hee, Jang Ye-eun, Shin Eun-soo, Kim Ho-jung, Kim Tae-hun, Jo Jae-yun, Yoon Hyun-min, Jang Gwang, Son Jina, Lee Joo-young, Kim Joo-ryong, Choi Su-im, Park Jin-a


In the final segment of Tastes of Horror, two young women face off in a perverse eating contest live online. Both are part of the mukbang movement, a live online show where people eat things for their viewers, and their online rivalry is taken to grotesque new heights by the end, resulting in abusive reveals that showcase the horrors beneath. It’s fitting that this final story in this South Korean horror anthology, titled “Gluttony,” would take a darkly humorous look at the horrors underneath the entertainment. If anything, “Gluttony” acts as a kind of thesis statement for the film, despite coming in at the end, and highlights its strengths. 


Based on six webtoons from a series with the same name, Tastes of Horror is much like most anthology films. The quality of its stories ranges and may only carry its weight for specific viewers. However, Tastes of Horror manages to find a throughline of thematic beats in its stories in a decently compelling way that propels its viewer from one tale of terror to the next, even though it has no wrap-around story as to why the various short films are collected together. Although a couple of the stories in the anthology do feel a smidge tired in their concepts or execution, the overall quality is fairly consistent and makes for a highly entertaining watch. 


This anthology's strength comes from its range of story types. Tastes of Horror opens with the weakest segment, although thematically tied in with the online techno-terror of the previously mentioned final segment, “Ding-Dong Challenge.” This one goes back to the well-trodden trades of a ghostly figure online, this time via a TikTok-style dance app, and runs the basic blueprint of the Korean ghost story.


Tales of Horror does gain strength in its stories as it weaves from a strange ghostly promise to score good grades on a test for a young lady to a Twilight Zone-style tale of paranoia that leads to one of the most horrific reveals of the film in “Jackpot.” The film takes a fun but perhaps misguided step into dark comedy with a haunted gym for “Resident’s Only Gym” before walloping its audience with its two highlights right at the with “Rehab” and “Gluttony.” The former might be the best segment with its Black Mirror-style science fiction threading and deeply depressing concept.


The quality of each segment also varies, though it's notable that I rarely find South Korean cinema lacking in overall quality of production, and that’s notable here. The sillier segments, “Ding Dong Challenge” and “Resident’s Only Gym,” do have more cartoonish elements to their ghostly apparitions (the long-haired ghost pushing down on the leg press is both tense and humorous). Still, segments like “Jackpot” or “Rehab” use the limited time frame and budgets nicely. 


With some of the immense talent in the director's chairs behind these segments, perhaps the overall consistency of its style and quality isn’t as shocking as it could be. Hell, most of the directors had films made available in the US via the Tartan Asia Extreme label at some point in the early '00s (definitely check out Arang by Ahn Sang-hoon if you get a chance - I sincerely remember enjoying that one). It’s an all-star directorial lineup that’s worth watching to see what they’re doing now for South Korean genre fans. 


Overall, Tastes of Horror has some great segments and some lesser ones, but the overall quality is solid, even if the tonality and styles between the stories can be jarring at times. The missing wrap-around does make Tastes of Horror feel like it can’t quite hang with some of the other juggernauts of the horror anthology world, but the short stories are entertaining and solid enough on their own to carry it—even with the horrors underneath.


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider  

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