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Problematic stories kept afloat by gorgeous photography/art, performances and a solid undercurrent theme
Epitaph is a horror film from South Corea. While you could definitely call it an anthology, as it contains three separate stories, all the stories are set in the same place and time, a hospital in Seoul during the Japanese occupation. While, I have to admit that the film is remarkably photographed and has great art, design and production values, and it even manages to be far more coherent and interesting that most horror films, it falls short of its potential when it comes to the stories presented.
The first story deals with a young intern, a ward of the hospital director, who becomes mesmerized by a beautiful new corpse that arrives. This is perhaps the least traditional story and the one that doesn't have any significant weaknesses. Unfortunately, it also doesn't have a very strong point by itself--this character actually bookends the film and so you do get to see and understand a bit of the theme of the overall film through him, but it doesn't have a strong resonance. The second story deals with a young girl who is brought in from a terrible car accident that takes her parents and she's experiencing terrible visions or nightmares. This portion has probably the creepiest imagery of the bunch and perhaps the strongest acting (from the little girl who plays Asako). Unfortunately, the character motivations are a little melodramatic and the segment probably goes on further than it needs to. The last segment deals with an apparent serial murder of a Japanese soldier and a mystery revolving around a surgeon at the hospital. While this segment has one or two really great ideas and resultant gorgeous imagery, at the same time, the resolution of the conflict is done via a series of twists that might even make M. Night Shyamalan roll his eyes. I think if it had restrained itself, it would've actually been a much better story.
Fortunately, even though the stories are indeed separate and focus on separate characters at the hospital, one thing that the film has going for it is that it really does a good job of sticking to its central themes of love, death and loneliness. I found that the frights were present to some degree and I'm sure that less jaded viewers might actually find them terrifying. Even with three stories that suffer from their weaknesses, the film is buoyed by its gorgeous reproduction of an era in Corean history, its beautiful photography and generally sound acting. So, in the end, Epitaph does manage to be interesting and entertaining, despite its faults. And for that, I can recommend it to horror-movie fans and the more curious (or brave) viewers of cinema. Decent. 7/10.
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