NIGHTSCAPE (South Korea, 2017)
Inchun Oh’s NIGHTSCAPE presents a simple but admittedly scary situation via an ingenious application of first-person POV style. Found footage has been the weapon of choice of low budget filmmakers for some time now. Right away, found footage necessarily implements the film frame as the characters’ subjectivity and bypasses conventional narrative’s need for establishing sequences. Due to this seemingly “lazy” process of its creation, it usually puts off a certain section of the audience. With this film, Oh seems to be giving himself even more of challenge by distancing the characters from the camera.
The film attempts to recreate the happenings surrounding the ‘Killer Taxi’ cases that have occurred in South Korea from the 1980s to the present. It is a textbook found footage film: footage is captured by the dead or the missing, salvaged by the living, then used to shed light on the circumstances pertaining to the missing persons. The film opens with an interview with a newbie actor (Seo-young Jung) who’s supposedly salvaged the footage along with other evidence linking the missing persons’ incident to a serial killer.
On the salvaged footage we see a journalist, Mina Choi (Joo Min-ha), the actor’s sister, following a lead provided by her sound recordist (Jung Bo-reum): a recording of screaming as she followed a suspicious taxi one night. This lead further conforms Choi’s suspicion that the person convicted for the ‘Killer Taxi’ incident is the wrong guy. Driven by the opportunity for an exclusive story, Choi forces her sound recordist and cameraman to follow the taxi.
Unlike most found footage films, the protagonist here isn’t the person holding the camera. This set-up is the most interesting aspect of the film for the greater part of it. There’s a conflict between the camera and its subject who are both conscious on what they are doing. We are often faced with a situation wherein for the footage to focus on something, Choi needs to command it first, like an orchestrated attack. This treatment supplements the kind of relationship that the protagonists have with the killer. It may be a very subtle supplement but something unique that NIGHTSCAPE has brought to the genre is the way that it can still focus on capturing the horror they are following while simultaneously running away from it.
In a way, the protagonists of make it clear that it isn’t them who need to be captured. Even in the more personal scenes, the camera is used in a journalistic sense. Choi’s mission of capturing/filming the killer in the act in order to expose him is a weaponization, of sorts, of the camera. This set-up often ‘strikes’ the subjects in the frame as if they are being attacked, especially in scenes of confrontation between Choi and her sound recordist. There is even a conscious effort by the characters not to be in the frame as it would tantamount to being assaulted.
The choice of film style makes the captured sequences awkward to watch at first. This, however, is offset by great performances, especially from Jung Bo-reum whose presence, although quite short, makes a strong and lasting impression. Oh’s direction seems conscious of the consequences of the chosen form, but the result shows how seriously he takes the subject matter. This opens up a new avenue for the genre’s approach – having more concern with the cybernetics of the film frame than assuming subjectivity. Though far from perfect, NIGHTSCAPE proves to be an interesting addition to the found footage genre.