"My mother used to say: 'If you hear the voices of the dead, it’s nearby'..."


With her mother, Soon-ja (Hyo Jin), increasingly suffering from memory problems, having seizures and all too often not taking her medication, Hee-yeon (Yum Jung-ah) decides to take her back to Mt Jang where she lived in her younger days in the hope that the familiarity of the surroundings will help her condition improve. No sooner have Hee-yeon, her husband Min-ho (Park Hyuk-kwon), her daughter Jun-hee (Bang Yu-seol) and her mother moved in to their new home than the body of a woman is found in a nearby Mt Jang cave at almost the same time as Hee-yeon finds a dishevelled and seemingly abandoned young girl (played by eight-year-old Shin Rin-ah) in a tattered, faded red dress cowering behind a tree in the surrounding woods. As the police begin an investigation into the woman's death, Hee-yeon takes the child home to look after her in the interim. However, Hee-yeon’s suspicions are raised when the child begins to mimic her daughter (claiming her name is Jun-hee, too), her qualms quickly turning to fears when police show her a photo from a similar investigation way back in the 80s... a picture in which the same young child can clearly be seen, in the very same faded red dress...


Before dissecting the film per se, note of course must really be made of the fact that the main adult female role in The Mimic is played by Yum Jung-ah, an actress who has been a constant and prominent presence in Korean cinema from the early 90s right through to the present day. In her lengthy and prestigious acting career, Yum Jung-ah has taken roles in films from virtually every genre you could possibly mention – melodramas such as Sad Movie; fantasies like Woochi; social dramas including Cart; and the list goes on, almost ad infinitum – there was one genre in particular during the New Korean Cinema wave of the late 90s and early 2000s that her name became absolutely synonymous with. That genre was, and is, horror.
Horror was without question one of the strongest genres of the entire NKC wave to the extent that even somewhat smaller titles regularly came to be considered both seminal and classic. Not only that, but the fact that directors who would soon become the biggest in the business – Park Chan-wook, Kim Ji-woon – made forays into the horror genre casting Yum Jung-ah in significant roles largely cemented her place as an absolute NKC wave horror movie icon. For fans of, and those with an interest in, classic and indeed important films from the NKC wave, Tell Me Something, H and probably most famously Kim Ji-woon's A Tale of Two Sisters should all feature prominently in Korean DVD collections and all star Yum Jung-ah, and that’s even before we mention her noteworthy role as a vampire in Park Chan-wook’s short (entitled Cut) for the Three Extremes anthology.
Long story short, Yum Jung-ah has been and always will be one of Korean cinema's major Scream Queens, to the extent that for me at least she will always practically define the genre, and it her by the same token. As such, her return to the genre in The Mimic had me, for one, practically salivating at the prospect of her bringing her horror filmography right to the present and hopefully taking it to the next level, in the process.

In early scenes showing a couple taking a bound and gagged woman in the boot of their car to the Mt Jang cave where the man of the two plans to kill her, The Mimic at first comes across as fairly likely to be standard Korean horror/thriller fare. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, particularly, and it does work fairly well but accept it or not even this early on that pales into insignificance when compared to the genuine creepiness that pervades the entire film. In these early scenes, that creepiness takes the form of the disembodied mimicking of earlier character (dead and alive) dialogue with the camera frame inching achingly slowly towards a wholly dark, makeshift hole in a wall within the cave, underlining the undeniable fact that there is something more (and far more foreboding) than just a dead body within.
As the main story begins and the narrative focus moves to Hee-yeon, her family and the odd little girl, we realise the opening couple killing the woman and hearing the voices of the dead was just one of many strange occurrences taking place at the cave over the years but the feeling of creepiness has been firmly placed in our subconscious minds. So, by the time the young girl starts mimicking Hee-yeon’s daughter, sounding just like her and referring to Hee-yeon as ‘mummy', the foreboding mood has already been set, leaving me for one constantly feeling that the hammer could deliciously and violently fall at any time, so to speak.

There are, of course, a number of jump scares throughout The Mimic and many are genuinely scary - one in particular featuring a shaman character and Hee-yeon’s daughter almost made me bite off my tongue. Likewise, numerous scenes featuring the little girl are tense in the extreme (for example, one scene in which she's seen cowering in a dog's cage - jagged, sharp and pointed shard of glass in hand - had me on and beyond the edge of my seat). However, The Mimic, to my mind, is as much about the psychological inability of Hee-yeon to move on from a tragedy; her projecting of her needs onto the girl without even realising; and the resultant vulnerability that almost invites manipulation. As such, The Mimic stands as easily beside noticeably understated – and often underrated – classic psychological Korean horrors such as Acacia (2003), The Uninvited (the 2003 Korean film starring Jeon Ji-hyun, not the lacklustre US remake of A Tale of Two Sisters), and to a degree Sorum (2001) regardless of how memorable you ultimately find the film to be.

In the past few years, there have been a seemingly ever-increasing number of Korean films detailing shamanism, with many focusing on it as an absolute force for good and highlighting its spiritual importance in moving passed-on souls onto their final journeys. The Mimic, too, has shamanism as a major theme but from a wholly different and far darker perspective, as was the case in Na Hong-jin's 2016 horror tour de force The Wailing. However, speaking of, there is a shamanism scene in The Mimic that, certainly in my opinion, has too much in common with a particular Wailing scene. Okay, a shamanistic ritual with all its frenetic intensity is kind of what it is at the end of the day, I guess, but these similarities so soon after The Wailing left me being almost reminded of Na Hong-jin's seminal horror throughout the entire scene. Regardless of how strong you feel The Mimic is overall, it isn't The Wailing and it isn't directed by Na Hong-jin and as such any of those kinds of almost enforced thoughts don't do The Mimic any particular favours. If I hadn't seen The Wailing that wouldn't have been an issue and The Mimic’s scene wholly works in its own right, but frankly what Korean horror fan hasn't seen Na Hong-jin's soon to be considered classic? There is also a fair bit of narrated flashback that serves as exposition in the film's latter stages but I am aware that the overuse of expositional narration is rather a personal bug bear of mine and it's likely few others, if any, will have any issue with that at all.

Considering the psychological aspects of The Mimic’s narrative and the strength of the internal debate as to whether the mimicking child is ultimately a force for evil or as much a victim as Hee-yeon, the importance of the performances of the two actresses and indeed the believability of their interactions is absolutely paramount. From her earliest scenes, Yum Jung-ah shows to the nth degree why her career has continued across more than 20 years, continually going from strength to strength. You only have to watch her break down in the early stages of The Mimic as she argues with her husband to physically feel her character’s pain to a heartbreaking degree and instantly be reminded of how truly talented she is. And as for eight-year-old actress Shin Rin-ah: Her performances in her quickly growing filmography – from Ode to My Father, to The Last Princess, to Memoir of a Murderer) have all been utterly exemplary and wholly memorable regardless of how large, small or supporting they've been. Her major performance in The Mimic takes her career to the next level and I without hesitation state here and now that she's destined to be a massive star.
Finally, and this almost goes without saying, considering the superlative performances of both Yum Jung-ah and Shin Rin-ah, the chemistry between the two is absolutely palpable. You only need to see the aforementioned scene in which the child cowers with a glass shard to realise that the interactions between this veteran actress and an up and coming newcomer with talent way beyond her years are the strongest, the most memorable and the most absolutely rewatchable elements of a genuinely scary, creepy Korean horror.
Ultimately, after a fairly long period which saw Korean horror laying in the doldrums, in the past few years the genre has been resurging, reinventing and once again going from strength to strength. The Mimic successfully underlines that rise and growth and that frankly bodes hugely well for the future.



The Mimic is at times genuinely scary, at others deeply creepy, but it is the phenomenal performances of veteran actress Yum Jung-ah and eight-year-old newcomer Shin Rin-ah – and indeed the sheer, palpable chemistry within their interactions – that will ultimately stay with viewers long after the credits roll.

THE MIMIC (장산범) / 2017 / Directed by Huh Jung


All images © Next Entertainment World, Arrow Films
Review © Paul Quinn