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'Lingering' Review: Wel-come to the ho-tel gonna-haunt-ya

Yoon Een-Kyoung’s 'Lingering' brings two siblings together by first trying to tear them apart in a haunted hotel.

Find out what's 'Lingering' in the basement.
(Image: © Shudder)

Our Verdict

'Lingering' fails its sinister selection of haunting visuals with a cut-together narrative that never feels cohesive or fluid.

For

  • 🐰 The ghosts come out to play.
  • 🐰 Solid kid-centered creeps.

Against

  • 🐰 Choppy storytelling.
  • 🐰 Draws focus away from the horror.

South Korea’s customary horror traditions will most-times benefit from deeply rooted spiritual terrors tied to more dramatic narratives. A film like Yoon Een-Kyoung’s Lingering won’t just be about a revenant in a house. Said revenant would tether to characters, captured on an astral plane under duress, while plotlines intertwine with tragedy any which way. It’s something of a signature when it comes to the region’s genre fare, thinking of The Wailing or even Train To Busan, where investment roots in folklore that values more whimsical, storytelling-first dread. Although, Lingering proves how easily filmmakers can get lost in these desires when too many diversions pull audiences away from the horrors that should feel more intense.

Yoo-mi (Lee Se-yeong) seeks immediate support as the guardian of little brother Yoon Ji-yoo (Park So-yi). An old friend of their deceased mother, Gyeong-seon (Park Ji-Young), opens the doors of her otherwise closed off-season hotel as their makeshift home. Memories flood back when Yoo-mi refamiliarizes herself with Gyeong-seon’s building, avoiding a room where death still stinks. With an amusement park out back, and Gyeong-seon's aid in Yoon Ji-yoo’s upbringing, the hotel seems suitable - until eerie frights begin to occur. The more Yoo-mi prods, the scarier her interactions become. Is the curious and adventurous Yoon Ji-yoo safe from the horrors that lurk in these vacant hallways, lobbies, and basements?

When Lingering is at its best, the lonely, ghost-town vibe elicits sensations of someone watching you from afar. Always. As apparitions present themselves, it’s in the form of headless hitchhikers or reflections in television sets. Yoon Ji-yoo talks to an imaginary friend, and references the ghoul’s existence even though Yoo-mi sees nothing. Much like the unsettling experience of watching your pet defensively yap at an empty corner of your room for twenty minutes. From cellars drenched in blood lakes to bus stop spookers whose necks twist like The Exorcist screws, my heart skipped a beat or two. There’s no denial.

Between the chills of Lingering, Yoo-mi’s investigative sleuthing becomes more and more complex. What starts as a targeted child abduction from beyond intertwines her mother’s apparent suicide, Gyeong-seon’s alcoholic housekeeper, added lost souls, a drop-in policeman - the list goes on. One minute Yoo-mi tracks Yoon Ji-yoo to the carousel nearby, then without warning, the camera cuts to Yoo-mi waking up in her hotel room. Next? She’s questioning an older gentleman about a completely different character. Dominoes continue to fall, but in a pattern that’s sometimes unrecognizable. The more Een-Kyoung’s focus expands, the less we’re fixated on centering forces rubbing elbows with specters.

That’s the shame, frankly. Lingering is loaded with spine-pricking imagery from tumbling corpses to motionless figures in darkness to haunted hotel signatures that register thrillers and bring fear to your door like room service. Maybe the visual effects are dicey on undead gore-ripped eyes, but still, Een-Kyoung follows in the cinematic footsteps of South Korean terror-tales. It’s just never pulled together with an unspooling narrative that gets tangled, twisting in on itself, choking those creeptacular core competencies. Tension forgoes continuity when characters are motivated by whatever decision will implicate them in lawful eyes or encounter danger the quickest.

Hence the complications of Linger. An elegantly staged multi-story paranormal move-in with an unwieldy screenplay and lax handling of plotted connections frayed by strain. Yoon Een-Kyoung has all the touches of K-horror mainstreamers but struggles to retain synchrony as a chorus of cadavers and broken hearts reaches its highest crescendo. Better suited for those who’re only interested in highlight-reel horror where viewers can reduce the sum of dismembered parts to incensed examples of afterlife encounters. Not a bad fit for a streamer like Shudder, in that case.

Lingering will hit Shudder on November 12th, 2020.