Memento Mori Review
Set in an all-girl's boarding school, Memento Mori tells of a love between two girls and the doomed relationship that is destined between them, incorporating elements of horror and sweet drama.
Min-ah (Kim Min-sun) notices a diary left outside her school one day belonging to two of her class mates, Hyo-shin (Park Ye-jin) and Shi-eun (Lee Young-jin). Curiosity gets the better of her as she reads one of the passages, soon coming to realise the two friends are much closer, sharing a deeper relationship than previously thought and so without thinking she takes the diary and proceeds to read it page by page, uncovering the truths behind the girl's secret affair.
Faking illness so she can be left alone with the diary Min-ah unearths even more secrets. Whilst in the school clinic she overhears a conversation between Hyo-shin and Shi-eun, soon afterward Hyo-shin is found dead after apparently jumping from the roof of the school but Min-ah knows that she was with Shi-eun at the time. Rumours spark and Min-ah begins to feel a strange presence, believing that she is being haunted by the spirit of the dead girl whose diary she continues to read. As events unfold and more strange things start happening, we eventually learn the reasons behind the death of Hyo-shin's now tormented spirit.
This is a sequel to 1998's Whispering Corridors which takes a similar premise but has different characters involved. Another horror film that is hard to categorise because it's just not horrific enough, it lends more of itself toward drama but offers enough creepy scenes to keep it within the said genre...barely.
The first half hour of the film concentrates on the girl's environment showing what their everyday life is like, we get to see many of the other girls having fun and doing typical things that girls do, this is all very realistic and humorous, one would be forgiven for thinking that they were not watching a horror film. The set up does indeed take time but it draws you in to the surroundings that often plague the two main characters.
The film deals with homosexuality, a taboo subject, not just in Korea but the rest of the world. Any film that tries to do this is going to have a hard time making it past censors but sadly in Korea the situation is worse and segments of the original film were destroyed, meaning we will never get to see the full extent of the girl's relationship as the directors' intended (except for in the trailer where we see them sharing a bath). This is a shame because if anything they approached the subject with care and credibility, we could have seen graphic sexual scenes but they chose to show the more loving nature between the two girls. As it stands I do not know if these forever lost scenes would have made a difference, perhaps they would but certainly not toward any of the horror elements which is what the film ultimately favours. I feel however that the directors may have lost themselves more in the relationship and tried to tell it as best they could, as opposed to scaring the audience.
As in Whispering Corridors the high school setting lends itself well to creating an eerie atmosphere as we spend the entire film there, seeing how the girls behaviour is affected by the harsh surroundings. At times when Min-ah is on her own the atmosphere becomes genuinely creepy, and though showing promise on these occasions for whatever reason not enough is made of the tension created and it seems we're not given the chance to see a film that could have been so much better.
That said, the performances are top notch and it is the two main girls that draw the attention of the viewer, we become intrigued about their relationship as much as Min-ah is. I think the main problem is that ideas were mixed, had it been a drama about a love affair it could have been really good because everything was so believable, had it been a straight horror we could've seen some really chilling stuff but instead we get an uneven mix of the two that fails to fully satisfy either genre.
Spectrum present Memento Mori on a decent DVD
A very good 1.85:1 anamorphic wide screen transfer that compliments the tone of the film, there are many dark scenes which remain strong and outdoor shots stay detailed also. The optional English subtitles for the film are of a high standard.
The film has a disappointing 5.1 surround track that is poorly mixed with dialogue spread across all five channels, so there is a loss of direction. Watching the film with the surrounds turned off makes for a better experience, though you can’t escape the fact there are some good moments that would have benefited largely from a competent sound mix.
Well there isn't a lot here. On offer is cast information and the theatrical trailer which is very interesting because of the lost scenes we get to see, a taster of what could have been. Finally the entire soundtrack is available to listen via the onscreen menu options.
It is never easy to review a film as mixed as Memento Mori. With a combination of drama and horror I am not sure which I would have rather seen more of. I think that it could have stayed evenly proportioned but if only the horror aspects were relayed through more eerie and unsettling scenes, this could have been a lot more memorable. The film looks very good though, there are some lovely shots and clearly an effort was made.