The old saying that beauty is only skin deep has inspired a legion of horror films, but while Takeshi Sone’s latest has a plastic surgery at its centre, it’s much more interested in the lingering effects of emotional, rather than physical, trauma. In other words, what starts out feeling like a chilly Cronenbergian horror takes a violent left turn into De Palma territory with two estranged sisters, bitter despair and a lot of sharp objects.
Miyu (Yurika Akane) has just arrived in Seoul from Japan, looking for her older sister, who disappeared a couple of years ago. As fate would have it, she bumps into the successful and beautiful plastic surgeon Hana Kim (Yuha Lee), who invites her to stay at her apartment while she looks for her missing sibling. Hana’s girlfriend Hyoshin (Sou Hirosawa) is less than happy about the situation, especially once Miyu and Hana start getting closer.
Sone shows us in flashbacks how Miyu and her sister went from being as close as can be to their current state of alienation, and he sensibly holds off on the horror until late in the game. Instead, he toys with the audience by delivering an increasingly complex mystery, full of red herrings, misdirection and shifting sympathies. Even if you’ve figured out the film’s main twist, there are plenty of surprises in store as the film unfolds. The performances are strong and Sone keeps a firm grip on some of the trickier elements, avoiding some of the schlocky pitfalls that this kind of story presents and nodding to a whole range of horror classics (from Eyes Without A Face to Audition) without making you wish you were watching them instead.
Despite the grisly and delirious crescendo, Ghost Mask: Scar proves to be a surprisingly sensitive and moving horror that will wrongfoot viewers (especially those drawn in by the supernatural sounding title). This is definitely worth seeking out.
Ghost Mask: Scar was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2018.