From reading the programme notes on Sorum, my understanding of what I was about to see was that it amounted to little more than a ghost pic. A highly unconventional ghost pic perhaps, but a ghost pic none the less. This rather unfortunate presupposition was further reinforced by the opening act of the film, as all the right pieces just fell into place — the derelict apartment building, the naïve newcomers, the unfriendly neighbours with their dark secrets.
Well, the presupposition turned out to be just that: a presupposition. Sorum isn’t just a ghost pic, and potential supernatural elements aside, where it really excels is as a minimalist dramatic piece.
There are no hard (or fast) facts in this film, and told any other way it could easily become a disorienting, confused mess. To director Yoon Jong-chan’s credit however, there remains a lasting sense of tight control throughout. Yoon favours a heavily stripped back shooting style, and a great deal of his work here is fairly textbook ‘understatement’ stuff. This basically translates to screen as long shots of…well, nothing really, but this only serves to highlight what can’t be seen.
The characters in Sorum are so (potentially) independent of one another from the outset that they appear essentially inalienable and quite complete in themselves. There is no sense of temporal progression in the character arcs – the only discernable changes in the protagonists are physical, and are so subtle that by the time they make themselves obvious enough to reveal how far the characters have come, the story kicks in and destroys everything. Most of Sorum’s success is due to Yoon Jong-chan’s careful manipulation of audience expectation and understanding, so that by the time the plot begins to function as expected, it becomes apparent that there has been little point to the last ninety minutes of the film and perhaps too much to the next fifteen.
Regardless, Sorum is a very effective (and stylish) piece of cinema that almost pulls off the impossible – turning the audience on themselves rather than the film. The ending is distracting enough to cover a number of the film’s shortcomings (so long as you don’t think about it too hard), and despite the fact that I know deep down there are no ‘real’ answers to the questions raised by the story, I’m still going to try and work it out…