The blockbuster horror movie, much like the blockbuster action movie, is a genre from which you can, and most certainly should, expect certain things. And, yes that does mean taking the good (things lurking around in the dark, people dying horribly and spectacular man-monster showdowns preferably involving explosions and/or heavy machinery) with the bad (contrived plot devices, stereotyped characters, average dialogue and predictable developments). When you know what you’re in for and the good balances out the bad, well, surely you’re getting your fill of mindless entertainment, right?
Not entirely, or Korean actioner Sector 7 would have been what it was clearly so designed to be, a satisfying addition to the honoured monster movie annals. But something went wrong, although it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what. It checks all the right boxes. It’s got a remote location – an oil rig off the coast of Jeju Island. It’s got a mysterious sea creature, seemingly harmless at first although we all know that can’t last. And it’s got a tough as nails female protagonist by the name of Hardass (Ji-won Ha, Haeundae, Duelist). Yes. Hardass. Yeah. It’s ok. I laughed too. And guess what she is? Yep. Absolutely the sweetest, kindest, most timid-
Nah. I’m joking. She’s predictably hard-assed. Sector 7 also has what every self-respecting monster movie has – a series of random mishaps and stupid decisions that lead to disaster and a healthy body count. During the course of yet another failed drilling session, the drillers discover a strange new marine life form. Of course they consign it to a tank, and of course it promptly bites one of the crew members on the face, which starts to swell up and look mighty worrisome. Does anyone think maybe he’s having a toxic reaction to this mutant guppy and suggest he get flown back to Jeju for medical treatment? No, they just continue to drill for oil. Fair enough. This would be one of those random mishaps/stupid decisions points. That’s okay. We can move on.
Moving on, having failed to find oil, the rig is in the process of being shut down when an alumni member and Hardass’ uncle Jeong-man (Sung-Ki Ahn, Arahan, Silmido, Musa) comes on board to oversee the process. Or does he? Being the inspiration he is, he rallies the troops for one last try and – lo – they strike oil. Meanwhile, maybe-marine biologist Kim (Ryeon-cha Ae) has realised that there’s something fishy going on and promptly meets with a horrible end. Everyone suspects, of course, the poor mentally challenged fellow with the bad face, but they soon discover a little case of anaphylaxis is the least of their worries.
Perhaps it’s the budget special effects – it’s a little hard to enjoy a good, reckless motorcycle race around an oil rig platform when the actors and their bikes are so clearly not actually on an oil rig – or perhaps it’s that there’s almost no emotional connect to the characters whatsoever, but the first half of the film is not anywhere close to entertaining. Thankfully however, the monster finally makes an appearance and the stranded crew start fighting for their lives and all that boring, irrelevant stuff like plot and character development can be shoved aside for the real fun.
Is it enough? By the end, Hardass has certainly earned her Lieutenant Ripley merit badge, and there are one or two scenes in the climax that are certainly worthy in the extreme of any half decent monster movie in the last decade or two – classics like The Relic or, more recently, Outlander – but unlike those American counterparts, Sector 7 fails to engage. A lot can be forgiven when it comes to these kinds of films – from bad CGI to woeful failure to suspend disbelief – if the characters or their relationships are engaging (look at AVP2, after all), but there are too many blanks and holes and not enough monster to fill them all. Sector 7 will be one for b-grade movie fans and those that equate “mocking derision” with “entertaining evening”. For everyone else, this is one fish you might want to consider throwing back.