W[Delta]Z, Martyrs, Hostel II, 7 Days… All movies that have sought, in some capacity or another, to expand on the torture film formula, experimenting with the clichés that plague the genre and subverting audience expectation. Missing, sadly, possesses no such lofty ambitions. But it does distinguish itself with a number of interesting choices, favouring twisted black comedy over the stony faced seriousness of the Saw franchise and a notable, if sporadic, refrain from on-screen violence. While neither of these things are revolutionary, they do lend the movie a very distinctive personality, albeit an oddly vanilla one.
It’s a familiar tale, one of nefarious country folk capturing and abusing big city folk for their own personal jollies. In this case, it is an older gentleman, Pan-gon, who lures female victims onto his dilapidated farm with promises of homemade chicken soup, only to lock them in a rusty cage and inflict upon them unspeakable acts of horror. It’s a tired formula and little new life is breathed into it. Blood is spilled, police do nothing, bodies are fed into a grinder, mystery meat products abound.
Immediately striking, however, is the schizophrenic approach to violence. An axe to the head or bullet in the eye socket is shown in full, gory detail. But prolonged savagery, such as the pulling of a girl’s entire rack of teeth, is largely obscured and quickly shied from once the point is made. Both approaches are effective but make for an odd overall one that lies somewhere between slapstick frivolity and a wincing endurance test.
Once in a while the combination of comedy and brutality come to a head in a single act. The inevitable rape scene, for example, is distinctly upsetting, all the more so for being preceded by a delirious karaoke number and the partaking of an odious ‘birthday cake’ – one which celebrates the captive as Pan-gon’s third victim. The icing on the cake (in the most literal sense possible) comes to repulsive effect when the violation finally takes place in a dichotomous act that is both viciously ‘witty’ and unforgivably vile. It is this liberal splattering of dark, exploitation humour that makes Missing such a unique experience, however misguided and stubbornly offensive it may be.
Despite such barmy technique, there are too few standout moments and little depth to give them meaning. On occasion, vague allusions are made to social political issues, including an amiable if heavy handed anti-patriarchal message. These arguments, however, are too shallow and overplayed, leaving little impact after the final reel cuts to credits. The rhetoric does pay off at times – including a bizarre ending that seems to imply that all old men living in rural parts of South Korea are murdering rapists – and it is in these instances that we see how great, or at least how fun, Missing could have been.
Sadly, despite a well of potential, this is a film that fails to excite, entertain or inspire with any kind of consistency. Damned it will be forever to the horror dungeons of mediocrity. What a pity.