Hee-yeon (Yum Jung-ah) retreats to the country, with her husband Min-ho (Park Hyuk-kwon) and daughter Jun-hee, in order to better care for his dementia-afflicted mother (Huh Jin). In the surrounding forests Hee-yeon finds a frightened young girl (Shin Rin-a) and, in taking her home, opens her family up to a terrifying supernatural menace that lives in a nearby cavern.
The Mimic, from South Korean director Huh Jung, marks a return to the classic North Asian horror style of horror popularised by the likes of Ring, Ju-On: The Grudge and Dark Water. There is a distinct difference between Asian and American horror cinema. The latter tends to present monsters and terrors that are there to be challenged and defeated. The former tends to present almost wholly inexplicable forces of nature that cannot be fully understood, let alone defeated. The goal for most classical Asian horror cinema is not to win but merely to survive.
In that regard, The Mimic touches all of the bases one would expect it to and creates a horror film highly reminiscent of a lot of other films. It has its own story, for sure – one based largely on the Korean folk tale Sun and Moon – but in terms of tone, aesthetic and character it feels overly familiar. This is the film’s greatest drawback. It may feature some nice imagery and solid scares from time to time, but more often than not it simply reminds the viewer of other, somewhat better horror films. Viewers with less exposure to Korean and Japanese horror cinema will likely enjoy the film more than genre veterans.
Yum Jung-ah is excellent as the tormented and brittle Hee-yeon. Early into the film we discover than she and Min-ho used to have a son, who vanished in a shopping centre when left with Min-ho’s elderly mother. Their marriage has clearly never quite recovered, and Hee-yeon carries an enormous amount of guilt around with her. It dominates everything she says and does, and motivates almost entirely how she behaves when confronted with the supernatural creature that lives beneath Mt Jang.
The creature itself comes across as a little muddled. It can change its appearance, and also mimic the voices of people it hears (hence the title). There is also some business with mirrors that never quite feels as if it matches up to the rest of the premise. The same goes broadly for the film itself. There is a sense that character arcs are opened but never quite closed, and one or two characters seem to disappear with a proper explanation or resolution. The key shock moments and frightening images are present, and indeed are very effective, but to a large extent the film makes you work for them.
The Mimic is an enjoyable enough supernatural thriller, but for every moment that it perfects there is another than feels rote and uninvolved. If you are new to Korean horror cinema it is a worthy enough film to check out. If you are a genre completist, you don’t need a review to tell you to go and see it. Anybody in the middle can probably find better things to watch elsewhere.