Saturday, February 10, 2018

Women in Horror: Whispering Corridors (1998)

* spoilers *

At Jookran High School for Girls, Ms. Park, a teacher, is convinced that there is a ghost before she appears to hang herself. The students are obviously shocked and saddened when they find her body. The school administration threatens them into staying quiet and life goes on as usual with a cruel teacher taking her place. The three students who found her, Ji-Oh, Jae-Yi, and Jung-Sook are drawn into the mystery of the teacher's death and the supposed ghost Jin-Ju along with So-Young and a young teacher named Eun-Young. Is there a ghost or is it simply the sins of the past repeating in the present?

Whispering Corridors is a well crafted supernatural horror that has volumes to say about female friendship and how society treats teens. The film starts with these teens in the same class, but estranged. Some used to have friendships and others never really spoke to each other. Ji-Oh is a bit of an outcast because of her faith in the supernatural and abrasive nature. Jae-Yi is timid while Jung-Sook is disinterested, mean, and obsessed with her grades. So-Young has the highest grade in the class but only aspires to have a college degree to get ahead in life. Jae-Yi tries to connect with Ji-Oh over their shared role of class monitor, but Ji-Oh rebuffs her. All of the girls are isolated from others due to how the teachers and administration treats them.

The teachers almost all practice corporal punishment (that could include a literal beating) on top of cruel comments, humiliation, and overtly comparing students to one another. Obedient, "good" students are praised and used to degrade other "bad" students who in turn resent the "good" students. Most of the teachers are men who abuse their power to punish students they don't like unjustly and spend extra time with students they find attractive. "Mad Dog" or Mr. Oh, Ms. Park's replacement is one of the worst offenders who uses homophobic slurs to humiliate the girls, gets uncomfortably close to So-Young, and cuts off Ji-Oh's only emotional outlet. Even the principal treats both the school and its students with disrespect. No wonder the students try to keep to themselves and keep their heads down. The only outlier is Eun-Young, a former student who is objectified and verbally attacked just like the students. She quietly rebels against them behind their backs and connects with students, but does nothing overt to rebel against or change the current system.

After the harrowing experience of finding Ms. Park's body, most of the students eventually join together due to the increased abuse of the teachers. Ji-Oh paints a picture of Ms. Park's body to express her feelings and it's found by Mr. Oh and destroyed. He bars her from ever painting again, but Jae-Yi offers to teach Ji-Oh to paint. They meet in a defunct school building said to be haunted where So-Young also goes to smoke alone. The three girls become friends in a place no one wants to go and where authority will never venture. The only one that continues to be out in the cold is Jung-Sook, whose antisocial, odd behavior becomes more and more offputting. All of her time is spent studying and still she lags behind So-Young, loudly proclaimed by Mr. Oh followed by a biting insult towards her. Jung-Sook seems to hang herself, reflecting Ms. Park's death.

History is repeating itself. After the students are sent reeling from this new loss, Eun-Young realizes that So-Young and Jung-Sook's relationship reflects her own with Jin-Ju, a girl who died when she was in school. Both pairs of girls used to be close friends until school pressures and teacher's treatment tore them apart. Both relationships ended with death. Jin-Ju has been posing as various students throughout the years (presently as Jae-Yi) and perpetuates this cycle, symbolizing the sins of the administration that have never been acknowledged and whose behavior refuses to change despite the recurrence. She wanted someone to love her despite the adversity. The cycle breaks only when Ji-Oh and Eun-Young vow to fix the problems and let Jin-Ju rest in piece. It's not the best resolution, but I enjoy a ghost motivated by love (whether romantic or platonic) and acceptance who goes away rather peacefully after so much violence.

Whispering Corridors is atmospheric and a surprisingly sad movie. It substitutes society with an oppressive, patriarchal school that has obvious reflections of real life to show how women and girls are treated. They often respond by cutting themselves off emotionally and enduring in silence to survive. Although it isn't specified, it might also be a reflection of how queer relationships are treated as well, since homophobic comments meant to hurt and mock are thrown by the teachers. I'm not usually a fan of ghost films, but if it's done really well like this one, I can't help but like it.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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