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Film Review: The Mimic (Jang-san-beom) (2017)

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SYNOPSIS:

The Jangsan Tiger, who mimics human voices to lure them close, encounters a family affected by the creature.

REVIEW:

Tigers have been associated with Korean people and culture since the birth of the nation of Korea. In fact, tiger is one of the key characters in Korean foundation mythology. It is traditionally considered as a guardian spirit that can drive away evil spirits and bring good luck with it where ever it may go. They have also often been associated with various mountain gods, either as their companion or as a representation of the deity itself.  With such long cultural history, it is not surprising that tigers have also found their way in local folklores and urban legends, one of them being the story of the Jangsan tiger. The story is said to have originate from the Jangsan mountain in the city of Busan. This ferocious animal is not only rumored to be a man eater, but to also have an ability to mimic human voices as well as the sound of running water, in order to lure its unlucky victims to their untimely deaths.

This little twist on the otherwise predominantly positive tiger related mythology was the inspiration for the 2017 Korean horror film The Mimic. Directed and written by Jung Huh and starring Jung-ah Yum (who some of you Korean horror fans out there might recognize from the 2003 film rendition of Tale of Two Sisters), it’s a story of a young family trying to cope with the loss of their son, so they move to a quiet mountain town in hopes of a fresh start. They soon encounter a lost little girl near the local mountain cave and decide to take her in, not knowing the danger she brings with her.

I remember seeing the trailer The Mimic sometime around 2017 and thinking the premise sounded rather interesting. I’ve always found stories of doppelgangers and other spirits mimicking humans quite creepy, so this definitely sounded like something that would be right down my alley. And I wasn’t mistaken. The Mimic certainly ticket a lot of boxes for me and is one the more interesting Korean horros I watched in a while.

While the premise of the film might not sound awfully original, don’t let yourself be fooled by it. The Mimic doesn’t fall into the predictable traps that you so often see in similar films. Yes, the idea of a family moving to a new place after a death of a child and then encountering supernatural forces is a cliché to say the least, but somehow The Mimic manages to bring something fresh to this tired old storyline. It doesn’t solely rely on cheap jump scares and clichéd horror imagery to scare you, but takes its time to build up the characters as well as the tension, making every scare count.  Now, some might say that the first half of the film is too slow going, but I personally liked the sedate pace of setting up the story. What you often see in films of this type is a hurried storyline in order to get to the “good stuff”, and that usually is the very thing that spoils any tension that the films could potentially have. Instead of this, The Mimic takes its time and is not afraid to build the drama before trying to scare you.

The few jumps scares that The Mimic does have, actually managed to take me by surprise. Because of the rather slow build up of horror, I was caught off guard in quite few occasions and genuinely jumped back in my seat, and that ladies and gentlemen is something that does not happen very often. The scares don’t rely on flashy special effects, but rather on well-timed and well-paced quality terror, and the special effects that are used are very well executed and offer some honestly creepy moments. Given the sedate pace and almost drama like structure of the beginning of the film, I was actually quite surprised of how gruesome some of the make-up effects were and I’m very glad that majority of them were kept off the official trailers, as they did come as a pleasant surprise.

Acting is solidly good all around. Jung-ah Yum and Hyuk-kwon Park do a commendable job as the distraught parents of a missing child and even though I’m generally not a massive fan of child actors, I have to admit that the two girls, Ri-ah Shin and Yu-sul Bang, also perform their roles beautifully. The performance that truly shines trough is the one by Jung-ah Yum. Her depiction of grief gives the character real depth and makes some of her more implausible behavior more believable. As relatively new parent myself, her portrayal of a grieving mother really tucked at my heartstrings and made me get invested with the characters in more personal level.

The cinematography is also a pleasure to look at. Like the story it takes its time with long, wide shots and creates a lovely dark atmosphere to support the story.  I especially loved the beautifully framed shots of the surrounding mountainous landscape that help set the scene and add another element to the atmosphere of the film.

If you are a fan of slow burning supernatural horror The Mimic is definitely worth a watch. While it might not be the most original film of the year, it’s still miles apart from the million other films with a similar premise. It’s a well-balanced mix of moody, dark and gruesome, which makes for a very enjoyable viewing.

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