I put off viewing the 2007 Korean film Black House (Geomeun jip) because I'd been completely judging the
Jeon Jun-oh (Jeong-min Hwang) is a mild-mannered investigator for a large insurance company, far too personable and kind for the job. His bosses must repeatedly remind him that he needs to maintain a businesslike detachment and not get involved in the lives of clients; Jun-oh can't help himself, however, and even goes so far as to divulge personal information to a caller he feels is suicidal.
Jun-oh's reputation as a the nice guy of the agency leads to his being requested at the forbidding home of Park Chung-bae (Shin-il Kang), who's tired of dealing with nasty agents.
Shortly after he arrives, Jun-oh finds Chung-bae's young son hanging from a noose in his bedroom. Chung-bae's odd behavior leads Jun-oh to suspect that it's not suicide, but homicide- and he doesn't want to award a large monetary settlement to a murderer. The police are reticent to investigate, but not so Jun-oh; horrified at the notion that anyone would kill a child for financial gain, he sets out to expose Chung-bae- who in turn hounds Jun-oh and his agency for his payout.
Jun-oh becomes embroiled deeper and deeper in his investigation, which stirs up painful memories of his own troubled past (which includes the death of a younger brother) and puts a strain personal relationships. As Chung-bae's history comes to light, it becomes evident that this may not be the first time he's killed, and Jun-oh becomes fearful for Chung-bae's wife Shin Yi-hwa (Yoo Se-on)- after all, the policy on her life is quite large.
Things are not at all like they seem, though, and at the hour mark Black House takes a sharp left turn into Wackadooville. The pace and action increase, and the film becomes a slasher-flavored glimpse into the nature of evil. The cruel secrets buried in the basement of Park Chung-bae are revealed, and they're decidedly bloody.
Black House suffers a bit from the plague of multiple endings- just when you think it's over, there's more. Still, it was extremely enjoyable right up until the credits finally started rolling. The slow build of the first hour may be off-putting to fans with short attention spans, but I found the slow-burn approach refreshing and welcome. The film features- GASP!- actual character development bolstered by strong performances. The villain of the piece is so soulless and empty, even Michael Myers would be aghast.
There's just enough torture-tinged gore to make you squirm, but it's not so overdone as to be off-putting. The film is slick and stylish, but never in a way that sacrifices story: there's no frenetic editing here. The score is subtle and haunting.
This isn't the haunted house movie you'd expect from the packaging, but it is about the evil that lives next door. I was pleasantly surprised and extremely glad I gave Black House a shot...and I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.