Four years after the B.O. flop of “Voice,” South Korea’s “Whispering Corridors” franchise tries once more for resurrection with “Blood Pledge,” centered again on ghostly goings-on in a girls’ high school. Inexplicably roasted by local crix, this fifth entry, focused on a suicide club, still managed a moderate 700,000 admissions in its June release (considerably more than “Voice” and “Memento Mori”) and ranks as solidly entertaining, if hardly original, horror fodder. Ancillary, perhaps as part of a series boxed set, beckons in Western markets.
Despite its up-and-down B.O. fortunes the past 11 years, the franchise has held to its policy of using first-time directors and actresses, several of whom have gone on to make their names. “Pledge” marks the debut of Lee Jong-yong, who has worked for Park Chan-wook as an a.d. (“JSA”) and scripter (“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”), and who helms smoothly and orchestrates the shocks effectively here, though without any personal signature. Among the leads, Oh Yeon-seo, 22, stands out for her chiseled looks and screen presence as the suicide group’s leader.
Confusing opening — replayed in full only at the end — shows a bunch of classmates at a Catholic girls’ school planning a group suicide by candlelight. But only one of them, Eon-ju (Jang Gyeong-ah), falls to her death that night from the church roof. Afraid of being stigmatized, the four “survivors” refuse to talk about Eon-ju’s death.
As pressure mounts from fellow students and elders, Eon-ju’s ghost gets to work, picking off some characters and saving others. Flashbacks gradually reveal that the suicide club was riven with deep jealousies, and the original plan was not exactly what it seemed.
The plot basically spins on the gradual revelation of elements deliberately withheld at the very beginning, and the characters are moved around the board at the writer’s convenience rather than properly developed.
Still, the whole thing is done with such smoothness — gliding camerawork, fluid cutting, Baroque-like religioso music — that the thinness of the material hardly seems to matter at 88 minutes. Sensibly, given the circumstances, the action focuses on the central characters, to the exclusion of almost everyone else (especially teachers) in the school.
Putative lead Son Eun-seo, as the dead girl’s supposed best friend, is pretty but bland; Yu Shin-ae is better as Eon-ju’s younger sister. However, as the strong leader of the group, Oh has little competition in the screen stakes.