Warning: Do Not Play (K-Horror Movie Review)
Read my transcript below
I’ve just finished watching a brand new Korean horror film that’s just been added to Shudder called Warning: Do Not Play, so grab yourself a bottle of Soju and let’s talk about it.
Dee Christopher here, bringing you new horror fuelled content every Friday to give you my recommendations on what to watch this weekend.
June has been a great month so far for new releases on Shudder and there is plenty more still to come.
the film we’re talking about today is one I was particularly excited about watching as it ticks a lot of boxes for me, I’m not going to give you any spoilers, but it’s a South Korean supernatural horror which focuses around a screenwriter/director who is suffering writer’s block and struggling to find new ideas for her next horror movie.
After her friend tells her about what is rumoured to be the scariest film ever made, a film apparently shot by a ghost, she goes on a hunt to find the lost movie and writes about her journey each step of the way.
We watch a lot of Korean content in our house, so I was avidly waiting for this to hit the streamer to click play at my earliest chance, casually ignoring the instruction given in the title.
My bar was set pretty high, as one of the last Korean features we watched was Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, which is a masterpiece, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by the story and the way it was told here. It might not be on-par with parasite, but if you like supernatural horror, this will be a very good choice for you.
If I was to compare it to any other movie, I’d probably have to go for Cigarette Burns by John Carpenter. Warning has a similar concept, albeit with quite different characters, but revolves around similar themes and has an equal amount, if not more heavy atmosphere. If you haven’t seen cigarette burns, it’s in season one of masters of horror, which is essential watching for any horror fan!
The movie opens with the camera tracking towards the lead actress, asleep in the cinema. (I for one was quite relieved that wasn’t an indication on what’s to come...)
The soundtrack builds to a crescendo as we reach a tight shot on her face, the music cuts and the lights flicker and die, waking her up. She looks around with her phone torch and the place is now empty and pitch black with an uneasy air filling the room, so she gets up and runs for the door, with just that little LED to guide her way.
I love the way this starts, it allows for the film to come full circle by the end and it gives you a big dose of atmosphere from the get go with a blue and grey grade before moving into something more natural to actually begin the proper story a couple of minutes in.
The film’s original title when it was released in Korea last year was Am Jeon, this is a theatre term which means to replace or rearrange the set under the cover of darkness or a blackout so as not to disturb the flow of the production.
This first scene is the perfect representation of this concept; the light is extinguished in a fairly busy cinema, which transports us instantly to a dark, empty space housing something far more sinister than whatever was playing on the silver screen.
In my opinion, This suits the film much better than the American title. You’ll learn why when you watch film, now knowing what the original title means. Warning does also work however, as there is quite an intense warning spoken fairly early on.
The first thing you really need to know about this film is that the production is top notch. This isn’t always the case in lower budget horror, but this movie really delivers on image quality.
The sound design, and the seamless introduction and disappearance of the sound track throughout is done very well and the cinematography is incredible. The set design and composition, the direction, the colours and the creative angles all merge together to create something truly special.
I hadn’t seen any of Kim Jin Won’s other films, like the butcher, but I’ll certainly be checking them out based on this. From start to finish, I was really impressed by the images presented, the grade and the way the story is told through the visual medium.
Structurally, you will have to pay attention when watching, this isn’t something you can just have on in the background (well, it’s subtitled, so unless you speak Korean you’d probably struggle doing that anyway!), while the first half of the film is pretty linear and simple to follow, the latter half does ramp it up as we start to cut between the main story and a found footage film, sometimes merging the two.
I know that sounds complicated, but that’s more me trying to avoid spoiling anything, when you watch the movie you’ll understand what I mean, but the way the the story is told means that you do have to give it your full attention.
The writing itself harvests parallels between the lead and the person who created the found footage, which was a really interesting choice. But again, it makes perfect sense by the end, even if it doesn’t when you first start noticing the similarities.
Story wise, it’s pretty straight forward, but there are some twists to navigate. Essentially the director is showing us to what lengths some people will go when faced with writers block and an ultimatum that means they have to get over it and get over it FAST.
Mi Jung, the lead, has just two weeks to deliver a script for her new film. She’s obviously created good stuff in the past as the producer makes a point of saying that it’s like working with a newbie sometimes, so perhaps this is a new feature after producing some successful short films and she’s struggling with ideas that will work for a longer form piece.
When she starts writing about her mission to find this lost, super scary film though, she knows she’s on to something good, which is why I think the character makes some of the decisions she does. She wants to finish this story and make it dramatic and exciting, while still remaining authentic.
It does get to the point where you start to think, am I watching a film about her making the film? Or is this film I’m watching the actual film that she is writing as the story unfolds?
It does get pretty meta, but rest assured that everything is rounded off at the end and while it’s pretty trippy leading up to the finale, it all makes sense, so you won’t be left with no real ending asking yourself what you just watched, as is the case with some films these days that stray away from standard structures.
Obviously, take all that with a pitch of salt, as it is a supernatural horror, so when I say it makes sense, it makes sense in the context of a ghost story.
The cast is fairly small, so I was really glad that the acting in here was great - there are some smaller characters that give some comic relief, but all in all pretty much everyone is somber and dramatic, which is fine when you learn of the situations they’re in, there just isn’t a massive range of emotion.
The important thing though is that The characters are all played really well. I find that bad acting is usually the first barrier to getting enveloped in a story, so the fact that everyone really smashed it in their roles helped me believe a story that is as far fetched this for the hour and a half I spent watching it. There isnt too much back story on any of the characters, just the odd little bit here and that helps, but the lead actress’s development throughout the story is what really drives it, as opposed to what went on before the cameras started rolling.
I didn’t really notice any major plot holes, there’d be nothing I can mention without spoilers anyway, but there’s not really anything in there that’s going to detract from the story.
The gore is fairly minimal in the film, I know some people are into super gory flicks and while this has some gore, it’s not over the top really and it’s nothing you won’t have seen before.
the kills are actually a pretty minor part of the story, it’s far from a slasher, but there is some bits in there that will satisfy your blood lust. The special fx are good on a whole, there’s nothing mind blowing, but what they do, they do pretty well.
There’s a few jump scares, but warning is more about the atmosphere and the story than it is about cheap thrills.
All in all, I’d give “Warning: do not play” a solid 6/10, it’s not going to blow you away, but it is a good watch and I’d happily recommend it to anyone who likes the spooky stuff.