By Scott Dorward
Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (South Korea, 2019)
I am a sucker for stories about cursed films. As a lifelong fan of horror cinema, there is something immensely appealing about films that contain real horrors, ready to worm their way into our eyes. Some of my favourite books play with the idea, like Ramsey Campbell’s Ancient Images, Throat Sprockets by Tim Lucas, and A Child Across the Sky by Jonathan Carroll. On the screen, Ring made the concept terrifying. Hell, I even enjoyed John Carpenter’s Masters of Horror segment, “Cigarette Burns”, a rare highlight in his disappointing later career. On paper, Warning: Do Not Play (originally titled Amjeon), a South Korean movie about a haunted film, sounds like it was made for me. Unfortunately, it never quite lives up to its promise.
Film director Park Mi-jung has been struggling with her latest project. She knows she wants to make a horror film but is stuck for inspiration. Her producer has demanded a script within the next few weeks or he will pull the plug. Her fortunes change when she hears what seems to be an urban legend about Warning. This horror film was reportedly so frightening that one audience member died of a heart attack and others ran screaming from the theatre. Park becomes obsessed.
At first, every avenue Park investigates comes to a dead end. There are rumours aplenty, however, including one that the film was shot by a ghost. Eventually, she manages to track down Warning‘s director, now a broken shell of a man, living in terror of what he has made. Park steals the hard drive containing the film but it is damaged in the process.
As Joon-seo, Park’s colleague and best friend, attempts to recover the files, Park visits the abandoned theatre where Warning was shot. There, she encounters echoes of the past and becomes drawn into the ghost’s bloody machinations.
Warning: Do Not Play is a bold title for a film. It just invites sarcastic comments from people who didn’t enjoy it. And, if you trawl through the reviews on IMDB and comments on Shudder, you will find plenty of them. It’s a cheap and lazy shot to take, but a very tempting one. I shall try to resist.
One of the stronger elements of Warning: Do Not Play is the way the ghost plays with perceptions. It is not quite as all-controlling as the mirror from Oculus but still manages to confound its victims. There is even a touch of Grave Encounters in its ability to change perceptions of time and space. The use of video as a way to see past its illusions is a nice piece of thematic consistency. I just wish there had been more touches like this.
Despite my fondness of stories about cursed films, I found little to love about Warning: Do Not Play. It’s not a bad film by any means, just a muddled and derivative one. I had hoped for something as weird as the premise suggests. Instead, we have the kind of violent, vengeful ghost story we’ve seen so often from East Asia over the past 20 years. Warning: Do Not Play is well made, but ultimately fails to show us anything new. Worse, its narrative falls apart in the final act in favour of one shock after another.
That’s not to say that the final act of the film isn’t at all frightening. It’s a perfectly effective piece of horror, if one rife with all the clichés of East Asian ghost stories. A few times it comes tantalisingly close to true weirdness, hinting at breaches in time and some personal connection between Park and the original film, but falls back into more traditional ghostly shenanigans.
One saving grace is Seo Yea-ji’s performance as Park Mi-jung. She brings a quiet intensity to the role that sells us on why she persists in the face of mortal danger even when the script does not. Fundamentally, this is a film about obsession and works best when it leans into that. As a ghost story, it’s at best average, and suffers badly in comparison to the classics of Asian horror cinema.
If you’re looking for something familiar this year that has some creepy moments and a few jump scares, Warning: Do Not Play might hit the spot. Otherwise, heed the title. Damn. I gave in.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Possessor (2020)
- The Boogey Man (1980)
- Jakob’s Wife (2021)
- The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
- Cold Hell (2017)
- Seance (2021)
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
- Dachra (2018)
- Isle of the Dead (1945)
- After Midnight (2019)
- The Baby (1973)
- Hagazussa (2017)
- Frightmare (1974)
- The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
- Dave Made a Maze (2017)
- Raw (2016)
- The Old Ways (2020)
- Terror Train (1980)
- mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
- Sator (2019)
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
- The Lighthouse (2019)
- Anything For Jackson (2020)
- Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
- The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
- The Wizard of Gore (1970)
- Fingers (2019)
- Lake Bodom (2016)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!