2020 Film Reviews

Review: Yoon Een-Kyoung’s ‘Lingering’

Lingering Movie Film

By this point in movie history, the cinematic ghost story formula has been well established. Such films tend to be long on atmosphere and mood, providing license to stage any number of spooky or disturbing scenes that involve events that are inexplicable by logic or science. Most modern ghost stories also tend to provide a reason for the hauntings. Through this aspect, many modern ghost stories are really stories of trauma, the ghosts a living (well, existing, anyway) reminder of some terrible incident in the past that cannot be forgotten or overlooked. They’re stories of tragedy and trauma that has built up to such a degree that it cannot be ignored, and one of the greatest sources of strife that cannot easily be dismissed is family. South Korean filmmaker Yoon Een-Kyoung’s Lingering capitalizes on this notion, telling a story about a fractured family that is compellingly eerie yet unfortunately too unfocused and obtuse. 

The core storyline and theme of Lingering (released as Hotel Lake in other countries) is a relatable one: a young woman named Yoo-mi (Se-Yeong Lee) is informed by the authorities that her late mother had given birth to another child, Yoo-mi’s half-sister Yoon Ji-yoo (So-yi Park). With her mother dead from an apparent suicide and Yoon Ji-yoo too troubled to be taken in by the state (labeled as possibly abused, highly imaginative and a habitual liar), Yoo-mi is forced to take custody of her, deciding to bring the young girl to the hotel her mother used to work at, which is run by family friend Gyeong-seon (Ji-Young Park). Once there, things turn into The Shining real fast: balls roll unprompted down empty hallways, the hotel is devoid of other guests thanks to it being an “off-season,” something lurks down in the hotel’s boiler room and Yoo-mi warns Yoon Ji-Yoo never to go inside a certain room. After the film moves away from Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick and ventures into Poltergeist territory with one of the ghosts seemingly kidnapping Yoon, an investigation by both the local authorities as well as Yoo-mi herself begins to reveal a bevy of buried secrets (literally) that forces Yoo-mi to question the people surrounding her as well as her own behavior toward her family, finding that all the trauma she’d endured as a child may have not been inflicted for the reasons she remembers. 

More by Bill Bria: The Erosion of Family in the ‘Poltergeist’ Films

Lingering Movie Film

Lingering has more than enough grounded material to sustain an average-length feature, but the pitfall the film dives into is piling on element after element that only confuses and obfuscates. Describing the plot beat-by-beat sounds like recounting a particularly vivid dream one’s had, minus the uncanny semblance of logic that typically accompanies it: a vastly empty but weirdly small hotel, a murder of a girl in a lonely field, sudden beheadings, a random teen student with one eye who can apparently communicate with ghosts who appears for a few scenes and then is never seen again, an amusement park in the hotel’s backyard and lots and lots of deliberately vague dialogue. While Lingering can be a confusing and frustrating viewing experience, it begins to make a semblance of sense when one realizes that it’s Yoon’s debut film. Seen through that lens, Lingering resembles a feature-length show reel, with the director staging a variety of scenes that show off his prowess but don’t really hold together. As a result, the movie never finds a rhythm or structure that keeps it engaging, leaving it feeling dull and plodding for the bulk of the runtime until it finally decides to begin revealing the plot elements its been holding back. 

Once those elements are revealed, Lingering becomes a little engaging again, but by that point it’s too late. Part of the issue is that throughout all the myriad incidents and try-hard scary moments during the middle, the cast are remarkably nonplussed, with Lee in particular oddly stoic. It’s not clear if her character is meant to already believe in ghosts or otherwise have had experiences with them, but it seems to take a lot to get a reaction more than bemusement. It’s especially frustrating because Yoon stages Lingering’s best jump scares in the first 10 minutes of the film, and one of them is an all-timer that stands up there with James Wan and Ari Aster. The guy clearly has chops, but seems to get lost and distracted with attempting to build a mood that just can’t sustain the entire film. 

More by Bill Bria: Romantic Horror in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ Movie Adaptations

Lingering Movie Film

Even if Lingering is ultimately a disappointing experience, it promises much in the future from Yoon and the crew. The film is incredibly gorgeous, shot with crystal clarity by cinematographer Hyeong-bin Lee, whose lighting and composition evokes the work of Nicholas Winding Refn and Dario Argento. Yoon presents a knack for executing some fantastic creepy images that are not always telegraphed before they occur, and composer Tae-seong Kim lends the film a suitably spooky vibe that occasionally is contrasted with pretty tunes. Lingering ends up feeling like that odd dream mentioned earlier, and fades away as such — the lack of a strong storyline means that it can’t stick in one’s memory. However, at least one or two images may linger, as the title implies. 

Bill Bria (@billbria) is a writer, actor, songwriter and comedian. ‘Sam & Bill Are Huge,’ his 2017 comedy music album with partner Sam Haft, reached #1 on an Amazon Best Sellers list, and the duo maintains an active YouTube channel and plays regularly all across the country. Bill‘s acting credits include an episode of HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and a featured parts in Netflix’s ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ and CBS’ ‘Instinct.’ His film writing can also be seen at Crooked Marquee as well as his own website. Bill lives in New York City.

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