Review by Ines Murray Gomez
New Normal (Jung Bum-shik, 2022) is a collection of interconnected short films that take place within the span of a few days in Seoul. They all contain some degree of social commentary on a variety of topics, primarily the naive over-reliance on technology of South Korean culture and primarily young South Koreans. While the movie is ostensibly horror, it incorporates many tropes and stylistic elements of drama and comedy. In fact, the tone of the film remains light, almost frivolous, in spite of the frequent depictions of violence and the somewhat heavy-handed social commentary.
The juxtaposition of horror and comedy are clearly a deliberate choice by the screenwriter and director, but the lack of cohesion of these two genres makes this story feel underdeveloped. It waffles from one to the other without ever realising it’s full potential as either a cynical horror/comedy a la Scary Movie or a successful social critique. Beyond the tone, the plot of this film is also a source of confusion. As standalones a few of the stories are genuinely creepy and interesting; and it is the fact that the characters and the plot are kept concise and shrouded in mystery that give them the suspenseful quality central to a good horror story. However, the clumsy attempts to connect all of them together crowds the film and obscures these more successful moments of horror and storytelling. At different points within the film it becomes apparent that the screenwriter is struggling to create harmony and equilibrium among these pieces, going so far as to break their own storytelling rules established throughout the beginning of the work. On one particularly painful occasion about half way into the film, there is a sudden voice over announcement that someone is watching from the closet. This is the first time a voice over happens at all in the film, and it is delivered by a character whose voice had been entirely diegetic for the first three quarters of this particular short story. This voice over is then dropped for the next few minutes and only picked up very briefly at the end of this section.
Some of the short stories that make up this work possess successful elements of horror, comedy and social critique; yet the need to join them together shatters much of this effect. There are certain other stories that are very apparently only there to function as the connective tissue, and these are particularly lacking in interesting characters or plot points. All in all, if there is one lesson that this film successfully communicates, it’s the importance of knowing when to stop writing.