When Min-Ah discovers a shared diary, she is soon fascinated to discover that two girls she assumed were little more than close friends, were engaged in much closer, forbidden relationship. As she reads on, she is unable to tear her eyes away from the high drama of her classmates' lives as the allure of the secret diary begins to take over. When one of the diary's writers is found dead from an apparent suicide, rumours spread and Min-Ah begins to feel a strange presence. The once tranquil school is transformed into a place of morbid terror, as the words written in the journal, "Memento Mori" (remember the dead), come to life...
Memento Mori is the second film in the High School Horror trilogy, following Whispering Corridors in the series. Like its predecessor the film is set in an all girl’s high school in Korea and features some mysterious and strange goings on. It's not all mysterious and strange though, that side of the film takes a little while to kick in, as before that the scene is set and developed through the characters that we meet.
This is where the film scores very high marks, as the people that we see in the film don't just act like a character in a film, they are portrayed with realism. The girls in the school bitch and gossip about each other, there's bullies, shy pupils, the 'in' crowd and the show-offs. Due to this I found that I was able to relate to the people I was seeing on screen, resulting in me being drawn further into the story. Despite very little actually happening in the first third, I was completely hooked. As the secret diary divulges more and more about Shi-Eun and Hyo-Shin, I was right along with Min-Ah in wanting to keep reading and find out what it would tell us next. Piece by piece parts of the puzzle are explained or shown to us and it isn't until the film is nearing its climax that some of the pieces even fit.
We learn most about the relationship between Shi-Eun and Hyo-Shin through flashbacks, telling us of how they became friends and how their relationship grew. Neither of the two girls are among the cool kids in the school, with Hyo-Shin in particular being the subject of torment and bullying, so as the viewer learns more about their relationship, the way other pupils treat them becomes more and more apparent. However, the flashbacks show just how much the two cared for each other in the past, and in knowing how much of a taboo subject homosexuality is meant to be in South Korea (I only know from doing a little background reading), the fact that the two were becoming quite open about their relationship speaks volumes for the feelings held.
Even though Memento Mori is part of the High School Horror films, the first third or so of the film plays out as more of a character drama. There are no horror or suspense moments to speak of. This is not a complaint as it was a completely captivating drama, I was hooked and loving it. The suspense horror aspects do come into play after the apparent suicide of one of the diary's authors. The film cranks up a few gears in the mystery stakes and soon the slight changes in the characters begins. Min-Ah becomes even nosier towards the private lives of Shi-Eun and Hyo-Shin and soon starts to drift apart from her friends. In doing this, and paying more attention to the less popular pupils, she starts to see her friends for what they really are - bullies and bitches. If you are on their side, they are nice and friendly to you, if you don't do as they want, they turn on you in an instant. Min-Ah's connection to the lives of the two lovers involves her in some creepy occurrences, none shown better than the spooky hands classroom scene. Ghostly hands seem to come out of nowhere, attack and generally completely freak her out. From the viewer’s point of view, my heart rate went up and I could feel the tension in the air. It was a fantastic scene, made better when we saw what was going on from another pupil's point of view.
Alas not everything is of a very high standard in Memento Mori. The film's main failing point is the ending. Like I've stated, I was absolutely hooked all the way through the film and was loving it, but the finale of the film was a total anti-climax for me. It seems as though no where near as much thought went into it as the rest of the film. Maybe they were running out of money so just needed a quick ending, but whatever the reasoning, there is a big build up as the supernatural elements kick in and everything is hinting towards all hell breaking loose, then the ending just kind of happens. I was left with the completely dissatisfied feeling of "Is that it?” This was such a crime for Memento Mori as everything else had been so good before hand. There was a good drama/suspense horror balance (maybe a little more on the suspense horror side of things would have been good), the characters were brilliantly written and expertly acted by all involved, and the story was involving and developed in such as way as to keep you hooked and wanting more. If it had finished on as equally good a high, then this would have been a fantastic film. However, leaving the viewer empty at the end destroys so much of the hard work that has preceded it.
Audio & Subtitles
With the choice of DTS, DD 5.1 or stereo, I watched the film in DTS mode. My surround sound system wasn't given the most vigorous workout it will ever have, that's for sure, as it seemed like most of the audio was coming from front centre. The front and rear surrounds seemed mainly to be used for atmospheric, spooky effects, which worked really well in places, but I felt they could have been used a lot more. In honesty, I was a little disappointed. That being said, what sound there was, was sharp and clear.
The English subtitles I had no problems with at all. I don't recall any spelling or grammar errors.
Compared to its predecessor Whispering Corridors the print here is amazing, and in general comparison I thought it was pretty decent. I didn't notice much in the way of speckles or the like over the print, colours seemed well saturated and the print seemed nice and sharp.
DVD & Extras
Extras wise there is a 'Making Of' for the film which has interviews with the cast and directors and shows different scenes being filmed. It has a couple of shots of scenes that were cut for the final film. There is also a Music Video which just features scenes from the film with music from the film playing. The original trailer is there as well, and like the 'Making Of' some scenes are present here that were cut for the final film. Lastly there is an Asia Extreme Trailer Reel, showing trailers for other films in Tartan's catalogue.
Memento Mori was a fantastic film up until its end, where it brought itself down to being just a good to very good film. You'll watch it and will be hooked throughout, so just try to remember those feelings after the film's over, as you'll probably be disappointed with the end.