“H” – A.J. Hakari

It’s not rare to see a movie critic’s quote that virtually defines the term “hyperbolic.” But the Korean thriller H goes one step further by cutting out the middleman, announcing in its very tagline that the film is nothing short of the bastard son of Seven and The Silence of the Lambs. While I appreciate the flick’s sense of gusto, I’m afraid those few words have created a mountain of hype that, over the course of its running time, it just can’t seem to conquer.

Authorities have just come upon the most gruesome crime scene in a long while: a woman’s body, dumped in a landfill, with the corpse of her recently born child close by. It appears to be a ghastly yet isolated incident, until mere days later, when another mother-to-be is found in an even more grisly state. After the second murder’s discovery, the investigating police realize that the two crimes mirror the first two victims in the six-person rampage of Shin Hyun (Cho Seung-woo), a serial killer biding his time on death row. Hot on the case are Kim (Yeom Jeong-a), a stoic detective who helped bring Shin to justice, and Kang (Jee Jin-hee), a newcomer who starts to get a little too emotionally involved in his work. But as dedicated as they are to hunting down Shin’s apparent copycat, their quest is a confounding one, as the truth behind the new slayings proves to be as elusive as it is eventually shocking.

I do have to give credit to H for not pussyfooting around the disturbing material it decides to take on. Unlike the recent chiller Untraceable, which dipped its little toe into the Hostel pool, H isn’t the least bit afraid to get down and dirty in depicting its criminal acts, serving up some ghastly crime scenes that might make even the strongest gorehound squirm. Unfortunately, as both the running time and the characters’ investigation progresses, the film shows itself to be little more than a lot of talk. The tagline claims the film to be a cross between Seven and Lambs, and surely enough, these two pictures are what H decides to liberally borrow certain elements from the most. The flick has the former’s knack for nastiness down pat, and virtually half of the latter film is ripped off here, especially the cold but emotionally damaged lead heroine and a “villain” who apparently spends his time in the clink thinking up cryptic riddles to speak in. H is content to use these flicks as its own personal crutches rather than make its own unique stamp on the serial killer genre.

Don’t get me wrong; H is still involving to a degree, providing a freaky enough story to at least have you wondering what’s going to happen next. The trouble is that the more that director/co-writer Lee Jong-hyuk builds you up, the more the realization that the story’s going to take an unbearably cheesy way out sets in. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that this is a prophecy that comes true in spades. It comes across more like a gigantic cop-out than a natural part of story. Also, if you were wondering what the title H even means, you’ll tear your scalp out in frustration once the movie reveals its source. But other than a misguided sense of direction, H manages to intrigue you at least part of the time. Dread drips from the story like a greasy slice of pizza, and the acting is capable enough, although the characters played by Jin-hee and Jeong-a are straight out of the Big Book of Detective Cliches.

American studios have spent the past few years rehashing Asian blockbusters for our “entertainment,” so it’s only fair that those on the other side of the pond have their opportunity to rip off our finest and not-so-finest products. H belongs in the same class of such films as Perfect Stranger, which aren’t bad to a point, after which learning the flick’s secrets will, in this case, make you want to add an “e” and a couple of hockey sticks after the title.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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