Loner: Horror of Hikikomori,
directed by Park Jae-sik
(Mirovision, 2008)

The more Asian horror films I watch, the more I realize that Hollywood has no clue regarding the full and true nature of the genre. It's all about emotion, and Loner: Horror of Hikikomori has it in spades. You'll be lucky to find even a tense moment in American horror, but in this particular gem from our friends in South Korea you will be emotionally bathed in grief, human pathos and insanity by a deep and moving storyline that wends its way through your body as if it were part of your bloodstream.

In this dark atmosphere, there is no black and white, no distinct delineation of good and evil, and no sense of any abstract notion of fate turning up at the end to make all things right. There is, however, blood and gore, which you might not expect given the film's heavy psychological atmosphere.

"Hikikomori" is the Japanese term for a young person who completely withdraws from society, basically retreating to his room and not coming out for months or even years. This is a very real social problem that is especially prevalent in Japan, for reasons that doctors and scientists continue to debate. For obvious reasons, cleanliness and in some cases one's sanity often fall by the wayside for the hikikomori, so there is much here for the horror writer and director to work with.

Hikikomori is reportedly much more common among Japanese males than females, but it is two teenaged girls that server as the focus of Loner: Horror of Hikikomori, best friends Jeong Soo-na (Ko Eun-ah) and Ha-Jung. Poor Ha-Jung is routinely bullied by her classmates, one of whom eventually pushes the girl far beyond her breaking point. This comes as a hard emotional blow to Soo-na, whose sweet and vivacious nature quickly begins to change. As a dark family secret begins to emerge, she finds herself completely alone, unable to trust even the beloved uncle and grandmother with whom she lives. That is when she withdraws from friends and family entirely. When she begins speaking as if someone else is in the room with her, her uncle seeks the help of his girlfriend, who just happens to be an expert on hikikomori. Unfortunately, the dark truth that offers the only real solution to the problem may well tear this haunted family completely apart.

This is a very emotional film that pulls no punches. I can't say I'm overly enthusiastic about the way the story ultimately played itself out, but I can say that the ending is neither easily predictable nor conventional. Still, it's the psychological darkness that fuels this complex and emotionally gripping film, and I think it offers up quite a powerful and respectful window on a phenomenon I had never heard of before. This isn't the kind of film that's going to draw a lot of attention to itself, especially here in America, but I heartily recommend that all lovers of Asian horror seek this one out.

review by
Daniel Jolley

9 April 2011

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