Modern thrillers live or die by their twists, and while an unexpected and well-executed surprise can elevate a film from mundane to memorable, many filmmakers forget that it’s the journey there that counts. In his latest film Forgotten, director Chang Hang-jun gets it half right, crafting an effortlessly intriguing mystery — until he starts to lift the curtain. Once that happens around the halfway point, the film offers one expository scene after the next. These scenes manage to both build an extraordinarily convoluted ruse before boiling it down to wearily familiar points, all the while lifting wholesale from the most devilishly twisted Korean thriller of them all.
Jin-seok, a dilligent college student, moves to a big new house with his parents and older brother Yu-seok. All goes well at home until one evening when Yu-seok is kidnapped right in front of Jin-seok’s eyes. 19 excruciating days later, he returns with no memory of his disappearance. Though the family tries to carry on, Jin-seok is sure that something is off about Yu-seok’s character, and then there’s also the matter of the mysterious room down the hall that his father has forbidden him from entering.
Any picture-perfect family in a film is bound to be hiding something, so when things begin to feel off about Jin-seok’s family, Forgotten forges ahead on an expected path. Yet through the combination of several familiar elements, including a potentially haunted room (the door of which is conveniently visible from Jin-seok’s bed), Chang crafts a tense and fun interplay through a cozy yarn thronged with things that we know aren’t as they seem, but that we can’t help reacting to.
As the tempo builds, so does our intrigue and engagement, buttressing the film with the foundations of a terrifically entertaining yarn. Perhaps this promise is what makes what follows such a let down when the penny suddenly drops once Chang takes a hammer to what he’s worked so carefully to construct up until that point.
Forgotten‘s second half kicks off with a twist (the first of many) that is so significant, it essentially resets the whole film. From that point on, a sequence of explanations is proffered that hints to an increasingly elaborate setup — which has only tenuous connections to what transpired earlier. In his desire to craft something unexpected, director Chang has completely done away with logic, to the point that the climactic reveal precariously teeters on a stack of absurd rationalizations.
At the heart of the film is the ever good-natured Kang Ha-neul (in his last film role before he began his two-year military service). He’s already had a successful year with New Trial and Midnight Runners and while Forgotten may not catch up with those financially, it’s another decent performance for the young star, especially when in the early going. Kim Moo-yul (Eungyo) has a bit more work to do as the older brother but the different facets of his character(s) follow fairly conventional paths.
Biting off more than it can chew, Forgotten invites harsher judgement than its peers because it feels like it could have been better, especially given its atmospheric combination of mystery, thriller, and horror. By the time things get too hairy, several callbacks (if I’m being kind) to Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy only serve to highlight the film’s flaws. Digging himself into such a complex narrative hole, director Chang has to claw his way back out, one weary line of exposition at a time.
By Pierce Conran