Following hot on the heels of well-known Asian chillers such as “Ring”, “Dark Water” and “Ju-on” comes a ghost story to top them all. “Phone” tells the story of an investigative reporter, Ji-won, who has recently published a controversial article about sex-scandals and has since begun receiving a series of menacing phone calls. In an effort to escape the phone calls she changes her number and moves house, but the calls keep coming. When a friend’s young daughter innocently answers the ringing telephone she begins to exhibit increasingly crazed behaviour. As she tries to unravel the mystery behind the phone calls Ji-won uncovers a secret that will change them all. Stylish and terrifying, “Phone” follows the growing pedigree of Asian horror, that shock, scare and astonish in equal measure.
2002 – Certificate: 15 – South Korean Film
Rating Details: Strong psychological horror
7.0 out of 10
It’s confession time here in Cactus World. I’ve never owned a mobile phone. I’m one of the 10% or so of people living in the UK that doesn’t have one, a country in which there’re more mobile phones than people. It’s not that I’m a Luddite or anything. I got Windows 7 when it first came out, I’ve a 120Mb Internet connection, a TV service with hundreds of channels I never watch and even a landline. I actually have a mobile for work too, (an elderly Nokia smartphone, although no data contract to go with it). The amount of increasingly desperate marketing materials I get from Virgin Media offering me billions of texts, terabytes of data and endless free mobile calls, suggests its marketing department’s best algorithms have identified me as a dangerous, social anomaly that needs to be dealt with, by selling me a phone and mobile service contract as soon as possible. I imagine GCHQ has probably got me on its ‘high risk’ list of people who’re attempting to live off the grid, in preparation for launching a huge, worldwide terrorist attack on the good and the great. Unfortunately, the two things I’d actually need to make getting a phone worthwhile, namely some friends to contact and some time in which to do so, don’t seem to be included in any of Virgin Media’s offers, at least not yet… This film hasn’t made getting a mobile any more attractive to me either.
This is a chilling movie. At least the first half of it is. Then the story gets a bit muddled up and it turns into more of a straightforward, supernatural thriller, before everything gets explained at the end. The latter was pretty helpful, as by then I’d sort of lost the plot and it wasn’t as if I’d had much to drink either. It’s worth a watch just to see the terrifying little kid in it. I really did believe she’d been possessed by the spirit of her father’s dead, underage lover. I was going to ring the police to report it, but by then I was too scared to use the phone. This film makes great use sound, from the audio design itself through to the annoying ringing of the phones. The latter all seem to share the same cheap and nasty ringtone, although the modern option of the latest nondescript Top Ten hit by someone with little talent, played via a speaker with all the sonic range of kettle, is arguably no better. There was some decent DIY on show too.
One of the things that makes this film work is its music. In particular, it uses Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 2 (aka the Moonlight Sonata) to great effect. This is one of the best bits of classical music ever written.
The trailer is almost entirely useless, as it does nothing to make the movie interesting. In fact if you wanted to see how not to make a trailer, this one would be a pretty good example. It’s over melodramatic, incoherent, says nothing about the film and is too dark as well.
Recommended for journalists, wives that don’t appear to do much and schoolgirls that want to get off with older men; and pissed off spirits.
No cats, chainsaws or decapitations.
Top badass moment? Chang-hoon is some guy. He’s the CEO of a big company, has a beautiful wife and a schoolgirl lover, yet he’s got all the personally of a plank of wood. I guess his money and his (I assume) ability in bed must make up for it. (His wife was pretty boring as well if I’m honest.) Still, he’s clearly some sort of Korean alpha male, badass dude.
After the death of her cousin Tomoko, reporter Reiko hears stories of a videotape that kills everyone who sees it exactly one week after viewing. At first she discounts the rumours, but when she learns that Tomoko’s friend (who watched the video with her) died at exactly the same time, she begins to investigate. After viewing the tape herself, strange things start happening and so she teams up with her ex-husband to try to stop the death clock that has once again begun ticking.
1998 – Certificate: 15 – Japanese film
6.0 out of 10
Despite being an antisocial loser and having no friends, I recently found myself in possession of a birthday party invitation. Stress! For a start, how does one present one’s self for such a social gathering these days? Formal? Casual but smart? Street smart? Metrosexual urbanite? And as for presents; that’s a total, social minefield. Still, not wanting to waste this once-in-ten-year opportunity to ‘have-a-good-time’ and ‘meet people’, last Saturday found me sitting in the sun in a garden in west London, twerking to ska-punk and reminiscing how when I was 13 I used to know be able to identify every car on the road and every plane in the sky; (a party animal, I know). I also learnt loads about what it’s like to control one of those massive cranes that you see on building sites; met a really famous drummer, (I think it was either Charlie Watts or Tré Cool, but I’m not sure now); knocked a can of cider on the kitchen floor and starred somewhat dumbly at the mess as someone else cleaned it up; drunk an inappropriate mixture of drinks that included cider, port, Buckfast, Midori, vodka and some Lithuanian spirit that tasted a lot like medicine; had a long conversation about Syria; ate some peanuts and samosas, (which were very nice) and talked to someone who’s getting married in six weeks. I probably bored a lot of other people too, but I can’t actually remember much else, but I imagine I wasn’t very interesting or coherent and spoke mostly drunkanise. Finally I left and forgetting that when I’d learnt which way to turn to take me to the train station (which was a two-minute walk away) I’d had the map upside-down, went totally the other way, took two buses and ended up wandering around the empty corridors of Heathrow Airport all night, like an extra from a zombie apocalypse film, before finally getting an entirely empty coach back to Reading at five in the morning; (well it had a driver in it, and me, obviously). I don’t suppose I’ll get another invite to a party anytime soon, but I was glad to have this opportunity to reconfirm that I have no social skills and really shouldn’t drink more than a pint of shandy. And it took me over two days to recover too. Frightening stuff.
This film has a fearsome reputation for being really, really scary. It’s not really. Well a couple of times it was but mostly it wasn’t. It’s more creepy than anything else. The anticipation that something was about to be scary was often more scary than what actually happened; a bit like crossing a busy road. I suppose if you get off on a certain kind of Japanese ghost horror then you’d be more likely to have an underwear malfunction, but not otherwise. The plot’s got something to do with a cursed video and a woman in a well. In many ways it’s as much a whodunit thriller as a horror. If a similar sort of thing happened today, it would end up on YouTube and probably wipe out most of the Earth’s population. Given its video-based story, it hasn’t aged well. Having said all that, it’s actually quite watchable. I guess I just found it a bit of a disappointment after all the hype.
There isn’t a great deal of music in this movie and what there is sounded like it came straight off of “Now That’s What I Call Horror Film Music, Volume 34”. The theme tune (used at the end of the film and on the trailer) is pretty horrific, but not it a good way.
Recommended for vindictive ghosts, journalists and ex-husbands. It’s probably a real nightmare if you’re involved in the manufacture of videos or DVDs, etc; I can imagine something like this would really take the bottom out of the market.
No cats, chainsaws or decapitations.
Top badass moment? I just can’t think of one. Had too much to drink at the party.
What marketing idiot (née liar) first suggested highlighting the ‘fact’ that low-energy light bulbs last longer than old-fashioned, incandescent ones? If they’re that good, how come I’ve had five blow in the last two months? And it’s not like those are the only ones I’ve had to replace over the past few years either. On Saturday evening the latest of these failed, the Omicron 40W über-bulb-monster I had in my lounge. In doing so it took out the trip-switch too, leaving me to grope around in the dark for ages for a 5A fuse; (thanks to the amazing ability of rechargeable batteries not to actually hold their charge, my torch went flat after about a minute of use.) I’m sure the Omicron is less than two years old and it cost nearly £20 too. It’s all very well making changes to your lifestyle in an effort to ‘save the planet’, but now I’ve got to go and spend about £60 on five stupid light-bulbs. That would have bought well over 100 in the ‘old days’. What a rip-off. No wonder they’re called low-energy bulbs, because they never bloody work! In a spookily similar way, this film features modern technology that does us no good at all too.
2006 – Certificate: Not Rated – USA
Hollywood remakes of Japanese horrors get a bad press, which isn’t always fair; but some film snobs like to trash them anyway, out of principle. This one was no exception. It’s true, most of the characters in it are somewhat one-dimensional and don’t always act very logically; and being a film about technology it’s aged very quickly too; it’s all pre-Smartphone era stuff. Worst still, the plot has more big holes in it than an undersized fishnet bodystocking on an elephant; (steady on, don’t get too excited about that thought). However, the acting’s okay and the special effects fine. I actually really liked it. It’s genuinely sinister, the cinematography and sound is great and the ending suitably apocalyptic. The car crash works really well too. The overall tone of the film is its best feature though, dark, disturbing, increasingly isolating and ultimately offering little real hope; the very ending reminded me of the ending of “The Terminator”. If you can get into this and overlook its weaker elements, you’ll probably really enjoy it. I don’t get the creeps from watching films very often, but I did from this one. (Memo to self: don’t watch spooky films with headphones on, in a dark room with just an eerie green light bulb, low-energy of course, for company.) When I went to the toilet after watching it, I did feel a little uncomfortable with my back to the door; I’d have hated to be grabbed by one of those dead people things when answering the call of nature. I haven’t watched the two follow ups or the original Japanese version yet, but I will at some point.
Recommended for people who like creepy films. Boo!
1 cat, no chainsaws or decapitations. The cat looked and sounded pretty gross though, having been locked in a cupboard for ages, poor thing. :-(
Top badass moment? Just because you’re on the run, escaping from unearthly, inhuman ‘dead things’ and you’ve just seen you’re best friend suddenly turn into a cloud of ash, that’s no reason to neglect dental hygiene. It was good to see reluctant hero Mattie grab her toothpaste and toothbrush from the bathroom as she made her escape. Taking the advice your dentist gives you seriously, is badass. Imagine having to deal with a bad toothache at the same time the world is facing Armageddon; that would really suck.