If you were to read the synopsis of Missing (2009), you would probably expect a generic, non-sequitur horror flick full of the usual self-conscious moments of tension; but upon watching the film, you’ll discover one of the most complex psychopaths ever shown on screen, along with beautiful, subtle and powerful cinematography that rises above the tired Hollywood norms.

Directed by Kim Sung-Hong (The Hole [1997], Say Yes [2001]), Missing presents a strong contribution not only to the Korean horror genre but also go some way to redefining traditional ideas of the genre. Starring Moon Sung-Keun as the highly disturbing psychopathic serial killer Pan-Gon, Missing has many of the trappings of a kidnapping gore fest of generic horror. It incisively denies the cliches of the horror genre and this is the film’s greatest strength. Missing is a horror film in the truest sense; it goes beyond genre to the truly horrific and, disturbing as it is, this is why it should be admired.

The plot is simple enough: wannabe actress Hyun-Jung (Choo Ja-Hyun) travels to the countryside with a director when they stop off in the country at a farm for chicken soup; this farm is owned by Pan-Gon who subsequently kills the director and captures Hyun-Jung and imprisons her in his basement. So far this film seems fairly conventional; but it is not the plot that makes this film different. There are highly disturbing rape and torture scenes, in particular a graphic teeth pulling episode, which although difficult to watch shows the strength of the acting from the main cast, creating a simultaneously twisted and convincing hyper-reality.

There is a restraint to the violence in the first half of the movie, opting instead for an intense sense of voyeurism (sexual and violent) that adds to the unnerving quality of Pan-Gon’s character. Close shots of Pan-Gon’s show both his sadistic personality and eerie ability to blend in with normal society. A particularly unsettling scene is when Pan-Gon gives a cake with three candles to the imprisoned Hung-Jung and quietly asks, “Do you know why there are three candles, because you’re the third.”. The delivery is intensely potent and excruciatingly understated.

This understated quality is mirrored in the manner in which Sung-Hon chose to shot Missing, with the cinematography concerned more with expressing psychological states than being visually intrusive. This film denies the temptation to overload the viewer with gore choosing instead a realistic intensity through the sparseness of the shots. The nature of violence is blunt and powerfully visceral as well as horrifically matter-of-fact. This is also enhanced by the film’s sparse musical score, peppered with Korean drums adding to the tension.

Missing does suffer from a number of unfortunate weaknesses; if it weren’t for the strength of the main cast the dialogue would be clunky and underwritten. This is demonstrated in the supporting cast who at times deliver clichéd lines that completely destroy the atmosphere and tension of the over-all movie. Also in its occasional homage’s to famous horror classics such as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) (Pan-Gon hacks his way through a door with an axe) and Friday the 13th (1980) it soon enters the realm of cliché.

You may not want to watch Missing ever again due to its psychologically disturbing nature, but the film is undeniably impressive and may well leave you never wanting to eat chicken soup again…

Joe Walsh