Literal and metaphorical ghosts aplenty in this tense horrors-of-war movie
“Come in, Butterfly. Donkey three, come in, Butterfly. Dokey three, come in, Butterfly.”
Near the end of the Vietnam War, the South Korean base in Vietnam receives a communication from a platoon thought to have been missing for 6 months. Decorated lieutenant Choi Tae-in (Woo-seong Kam) and 8 men are tasked with exploring the rendezvous point and finding the missing squad. However, something feels wrong about the location, and rumours of ghost sightings begin immediately. As they search, and tensions rise, they begin seeing increasingly weird things, and start to turn on themselves.
As you might guess from the synopsis, there’s nothing really new here. R-Point’s pacing and staging is all pretty standard; it doesn’t try to break the mould with inventive techniques or editing, instead opting for something horror fans will be familiar with: opening with an introduction of the characters, a few sequences establishing the environment before creepy stuff begins to happen and everything starts to fall apart. If you’re familiar with these story beats, you can probably safely guess where the film will go.
That’s not to say that the film is entirely predictable, and throws enough cool stuff in the air to keep us hooked. It doesn’t fall into the trap many other films in this vein do by explaining too much of the plot. Much of the horror in these movies tends to fall apart in the final act when we’re given the reveal. Here, the soldiers aren’t much closer to guessing the whole story even in the final act. Your mileage will vary on whether that’s due to an air of mystery that’s kept throughout, or confusing writing.
It’s this tension that keeps the momentum going. When your characters are as in the dark as these soldiers are, it can be difficult to ensure the film doesn’t slow to a crawl. Here instead we’re treated to mounting paranoia mixed in with an ever-increasing amount of paranormal events, which builds nicely into a crescendo of taut nerves and terror. Director Kong Su-chang, famous for direction another claustrophobic military horror The Guardpost, does all of this with confidence directing a fairly adept group of actors (although, as is standard in Asian cinema, once the American actors show up, you’re in for a world of unconvincing dialogue and deliveries).
R-Point does nothing to make us care about many of these people, which is arguably the norm when dealing with a large cast. Most of them are cannon fodder, and you’re probably cool with that going in. That’s not to say that it doesn’t try, and several characters stand out more than others, though never in a way that screams “he’s the main character”. Sure, the lieutenant seems like the lead character, but he has about as much to do in the film as anyone else, so we’re treated to more of an ensemble piece.
In the end, R-Point is nothing you haven’t seen before. The “literal horrors of war” genre is as old as war itself, and it usually takes some skill to pull off something really original, which Kong doesn’t have. But it is entertaining, provides some chilling moments and is certainly entertaining enough to be worth the time.
Verdict: While it won’t win over those not interested in war or horror, R-Point is a solid, if generic thriller, but overall a pretty good time
Also known as 알 포인트, Arpointeu
Director: Kong Su-chang
Writer: Kong Su-chang
Woo-seong Kam – Lieutenant Choi Tae-in
Byung-ho Son – Sergeant Jin Chang-rok
Tae-kyung Oh – Sergeant Jang Young-soo
Won-sang Park – Sergeant Cook
Sun-kyun Lee – Sergeant Park
Jin-ho Song – Sergeant Oh
Byeong-cheol Kim – Corporal Joh Byung-hoon
Kyeong-ho Jeong – Corporal Lee Jae-pil
Yeong-dong Mun – Corporal Byun
Ju-bong Gi – Captain Park