A young train attendant experiences terminal emotional closure in “Red Eye,” a solid slice of K-horror that delivers on all genre fronts without shooting for the stars. Directed in the same cold but involving style helmer Kim Dong-bin brought to his 1999 “The Ring Virus” (an official Korean remake of “The Ring”), pic is readymade for outings at fantasy fests prior to a warm career on Western ancillary. Local biz on February release was underwhelming but occidental buffs of Asian horror will respond.
On her first day at work, cutie railroad attendant Oh Mi-seon (Jang Shin-yeong) boards the overnight train from Seoul down to the southern coastal town of Yeosu. The passengers are the usual motley lot — two teen runaways, some soldiers, a horny couple, a boy who draws grisly pictures — but the nervous Mi-seon is helped out by a friendly young conductor, Chan-shik (Song Il-guk).
Turns out the train includes some coaches that were involved in an unsolved railroad crash 16 years earlier, in which 100 people died. Popular superstition says the coaches are still haunted, and, while wheeling the refreshments trolley through the carriages, Mi-seon starts having weird fantasies (spiders, time travel). Only one person on board, spiritual club member Yun So-heui (Gwak Ji-min, from “Samaritan Girl”), seems sympathetic to her visions.
Film slowly ramps up the horror as more emerges about Mi-seon’s background: Her conductor father died in the crash when she was still young, and she’s deliberately chosen her birthday to board the train and try to start over. But as her visions increase, the train seems to travel back to that fateful day in 1988; and as it approaches the end of the line, it doesn’t seem to want to slow down.
The plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but works well at a visceral level, with casual shocks in the early going and more elaborate ghost stuff later on. Jang, the pretty pharmacist in “Springtime,” is bland as Mi-seon but doesn’t scream too much, while the rest of the sizable cast hit their marks.
Kim Hyeon-suk adds color as the ghost of the crashed train’s senior purser, who says — as characters do in horror pics — that they’re all going to die.
Jang Tae-hwan’s art direction plausibly conjures up the train in its two time periods, and lensing by Byeon Heui-seong develops a clammy grunginess as the yarn proceeds.