Many things are universal. Ghosts, for example. What ghosts do and how they behave, however, can be culturally specific. The Jangsan Tiger is sort of a ghost and sort of a creature, and it has a religious backstory. Of course, I’m referring to the Korean horror film, The Mimic. I found it while looking for Mimic on Amazon Prime, but that definite article made this one free and it had received pretty good ratings. Released by the careless trespass of a murderer, the Jangsan Tiger stalks a family that really just needs a break. The parents, Hee-yeon and Min-ho, lost their son five years ago. They move to Mt. Jang with their daughter (Joon-hee) and his mother, believing that the distance from Seoul will do them some good. The Tiger, however, has other plans.
Apart from the well-timed jump-startles and stings (this movie “got” me more than once), the story is filled with pathos. Parenting is probably the biggest emotional gamble a person can take. The Jangsan Tiger imitates voices and convinces its victims that it is someone they love. The children actors are particularly effective and their crying is difficult for any parent to watch. This is horror that pulls at your heartstrings. The family, as expected, begins to crumble under the pressure. Religion comes into it because a shaman, ostracized from society, had summoned the Jangsan spirit in a kind of Faustian bargain. He sacrificed his daughter and now that he’s released again, sacrifices others who are lured into the cave on Mt. Jang.
Interestingly enough, the actual mountain Jangsan—the movie is based on an urban legend—is in real life the site of an active mine field. Somehow this moves the film from urban legend territory into that of parable. Many of the scary stories we tell our children are intended to keep them safe from dangers they really can’t comprehend. Adults plant minefields to make the land unsafe. The real tiger prowling those lovely hills is one that walks on two legs. And what that monster craves is human sacrifice. Now, I can’t claim to understand the entire plot of the film. Between subtitles and the lack of cultural experience, I’m merely a spectator to something that feels deeper than just a movie. Those who spend time with horror know that it’s often sophisticated and intelligent. It’s a genre that appeals to both the mind and to religion. There’s a reason the shaman stands between worlds.