Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: The Loner (2008)

The Loner (Review)
Park Jae-sik/Go Eun-ah/2008
Where to Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"What could've been more than, becomes less."

When her best friend commits suicide after severe bullying and a misunderstanding, Soo-na (Go Eun-ah) locks herself in her room and begins talking to someone only she can see...

Loner (original title: Woetoli) revolves around the idea of hikikomori -- reclusive individuals who withdraw from society. The story follows Soo-na as she becomes a "loner" because of her best friend's bloody suicide, while odd things begin occurring to the rest of the household -- her uncle and grandmother. Who is Soo-na speaking to in her room? Although it should have a strong sense of mystery, most of the film plays out like a traditional ghost story: creepy events occur while someone tries to find out why. The final act is unnecessarily complicated, but the ending, from what I understood, is bittersweet and heartfelt.

Loner has an interesting concept, but flawed execution. What could've been more than, becomes less. The film's use of its themes, such as hikikomori, make it unique. It's use of mystery also adds some slow-burn and interest into the film. However, much of the film is the same old, same old as it uses a repetitive formula for its first two acts, and overwhelms the audience during the final. The often confusing storytelling will be more offensive if you don't speak Korean as the English subtitles, particularly for the Netflix version, are sloppy with spelling and grammatical errors; you can understand the story, but you'll have to work much of it out yourself. The suspense is weak, and only a few jump-scares work well. There are some disturbing visuals, though, and some psychological burn.

Go Eun-ah is great, but, as a lead, she feels very underused. Regardless, the cast is great with a wide range of emotion from every character, despite some stereotypes. The film looks like every other Asian ghost film with blue tones and similar camerawork -- at least it works well, though. The music is also very effective, but not very memorable. Park Jae-sik's direction is good, but some of it is a bit inconsistent and choppy; I think the writing it more to blame for some of the complicated storytelling.

Overall, Loner is a decent horror film. The theme of hikikomori, or loneliness, is strong and leads to more than a handful of emotional scenes. But, along with the elements of mystery, it's not strongly developed enough to hold the film up. Instead, we get a hollow shell of what could've been, and it's not very scary, either.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

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