Dubbed locally as “Whispering Corridors 2,” due to its meld of sapphism and the supernatural at a girls’ high school, “Memento Mori” is in fact a very different kettle of fish to the surprise Korean hit of 1998. Less viscerally creepy and with no subtext on the stifling rigidity of the country’s education system, this debut by two young writer-directors is an impressive blend of style and innovative structure that’s let down by a ragged finale. Result looks likely to haunt the fest circuit during the coming months, especially in buff-oriented slots.
Helmers Kim Tae-yong and Min Kyu-dong, who previously collaborated on several shorts, have taken an established genre — teenage femme sexuality and its destructive force — and turned it on its head with a fresh approach. Throughsome flashy use of whiplash visuals and digital sound, the movie mixes flashbacks with the present in a way that only becomes clear after a while, creating a female hormonal hothouse that makes for compulsive viewing most of the time.
Pic is largely shown through the eyes of the virginal Min-ah (Kim Min-seon), who discovers an elaborate diary-cum-scrapbook that appears to chart an intense friendship between fellow classmates Shi-eun (Lee Yeong-jin) and the dour-faced Hyo-shin (Park Ye-jin). The 17-year-old pair also have some kind of telepathic relationship.
When Hyo-shin apparently commits suicide, it turns out hers is the sixth death at the school, and one more death will cause the school to be closed. Min-ah finally shows the diary to two classmates (Kim Min-heui, Kong Hyo-jin) and starts to investigate Hyo-shin’s death, gradually becoming spooked by Hyo-shin’s ghostly presence and uncovering a tale of sexual jealousy that also involves Hyo-shin’s relationship with a male teacher, Goh (Paek Jong-hak).
Helmers have gussied up a basically simple story of love and betrayal with an off-center mix of handheld camerawork (for emotional moments) and highly worked visuals (for supernatural effect), creating a seamless suspension of disbelief that works well until they have to resolve the plot in the final act.
Last reels, with the pupils trapped in the school by the vengeful spirit of Hyo-shin, seem hollow after the careful, atmospheric build-up.
Performances by the young cast are all good, with the hatchet-faced Park particularly memorable. Technically, the movie is top-drawer in all departments. Korean title simply means “Girls’ High Ghost Story.”