Aspiring director Mi-jung’s life revolves around horror movies. Not only does she direct them, she consistently dreams about them (and then enthusiastically writes about said dreams when she’s awake). But when Mi-jung’s obsession leads to her persuing a rumoured horror movie shot by an actual ghost, her fixation on the genre gets far too close for comfort.
Struggling to find a story for her next movie, Mi-jung (Ye-ji Seo) believes this ghost-shot frightener (named ‘Warning’) is the key to hitting the big time. However, with flashbacks to an attempted suicide in her past, Mi-jung’s life has a few horrors of its own, and the deeper she goes into this ghostly tale, the more her own life blurs into that of the movie.
Make no mistake, Warning: Do Not Play may sound a little The Ring-esque with its ‘haunted film’ skew but this is just one of the many ways this movie squarely lines up your expectations and then quickly pivots away from any assumptions. What starts off as a seemingly simple ghost story leads the viewers down paths of abuse, mental health, aspirations, escapism, death and good old-fashioned humans being absolute bastards.
The story divulges into various directions (at one point we’re even asking ourselves if Mi-jung IS the ghost) but writer and director Kim Jin-won juggles all of them with seeming ease, steering the story in a very linear if complex direction. This is aided massively in Ye-ji Seo’s performance, which anchors the whole movie in a central focus on the character of Mi-jung. We find out pretty early on that Mi-jung is an unreliable protagonist but that doesn’t stop us wholeheartedly following her on what is clearly a treacherous journey.
Kim Jin-won also heaps on the terror without resorting to jump scares or gory set-pieces. Sure there’s plenty of blood to go around, but the really unsettling moments are shrouded in the sly use of shadows and in the viewers’ imaginations of what we DON’T see (even when Mi-jung photographs the horrors around her with her phone we’re not overly privy to what she captures).
The final third of the film does drag slightly, with a showdown that loses momentum after a while. However, Kim Jin-won sticks the landing by shining a dark spotlight on humanity having the capacity to be a hell of a lot more evil than an enraged specter ever could be.
Warning: Do Not Play is available on Shudder now.