Who's the Stranger Inside Your Phone?
Welcome to Knockout Horror and to another horror movie review. Today we are taking a look at South Korean horror thriller Unlocked (스마트폰을 떨어뜨렸을 뿐인데). This is another movie that features themes of social media, voyeurism and stalking. Something we have been getting pretty deep into lately. Let’s take a look.
Wow I have been putting in a serious lack of effort in April. No new Ending Explained articles. No new horror movie lists. Only a few new reviews. I really have to apologise. Life has been getting in the way a little bit. I have had to do a lot of car and household repairs. All of which left me with virtually no free time.
On top of that, I decided to work on some non-writing related site stuff. Improving the speed of the site, optimisations, security. That type of thing. All of that is done now. The site should load a lot faster than it did previously. Hopefully resulting in a better user experience. I am now ready to get on with some of the usual content so let’s get to it.
We put out a couple of Horror Movie Ending Explained articles each week. In these articles, we take a look at certain movies and explain the ending. It’s pretty straightforward really. Many of these films may have obvious endings with a few questions left unanswered. Others will be ridiculously confusing. We approach them all the same and try to clear things up.
Unlocked’s ending has something of a twist. While not being super complicated. We take a deep dive in our Unlocked Ending Explained article. Why not check it out? Obviously it is not a spoiler free article. If you haven’t watched the movie yet, check out the review. Watch the movie on Netflix and then check out the ending explained.
Stalking is an age old concept when it comes to scary movies. Dating back years. There are numerous examples of iconic stalkers throughout the annals of horror. Be it Duncan from When a Stranger Calls or Annie Wilkes from Misery. It’s a tried and tested concept that often results in legitimate horror scares. When combined with themes of Voyeurism, it is even more effective. The excellent Alone With Her is a brilliant example of this.
Moving further into the 2020s. We are more connected than we have ever been before. The majority of people have at least one social media account. We incessantly share our everyday lives with anyone willing to click a “follow” button. On top of this, we are constantly attached to our mobile phones. As a society, we are obsessed with ways to connect with the people around us.
This desire to be constantly connected. Has lead to a whole new wave of social media themed horror movies. Combining traditional elements of stalking and voyeurism. With the very real security issues posed by our always online way of life. These horror movies aim to tap into our primal fear of being watched and followed.
Forgoing the more traditional techniques of stalker cinema. For example the installing of hidden cameras ala the 13 Cameras series. And the physical following of a person by someone with malicious intent. These horror movies keep the antagonist at a distance. Watching through a person’s social media accounts. Hacking into their devices. Spying on their most intimate moments on phone and web cameras.
The thought of someone hacking into your personal devices. Gaining full control over them and watching you through the camera is terrifying. Imagine sitting on the porcelain throne. Catching up on some sports news while taking care of business. Only for some other creep to be watching your every “movement” through your phone’s camera. It’s horrifying!
That’s without even dipping a toe into the social aspects. The damage that could be caused by someone having access to your phone and social media accounts. Imagine someone impersonating you. Using your phone to insult your friends or to post hateful messages. Sharing images and videos you definitely wouldn’t want your mum to see. Insulting your boss or simply attempting to ruin your life. This is the very real threat of a stalker hacking your devices.
Social destruction is an element of stalking that horror movies haven’t effectively exploited. Not yet, anyway. None have really managed to tap into the layers of damage that could be done from this intrusion. Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web are fun but not particularly scary. Hacked (The Den) gives it a good go but falls a bit flat. Ratter tries but completely misses the mark. Nothing really manages to emphasise the damage this situation could do to a person. They simply aim to watch the victim for awhile before killing them.
Unlocked is here to change that. Following the story of a young woman who loses her phone on a bus. Only to have the phone returned to her by a seemingly kind stranger. Unlocked focuses on the destruction caused to the life of our protagonist Lee Na Mi. Unlocked doesn’t aim to simply present simple stalking. It aims to weave a story of social destruction and mental torture. With Unlocked, I think we have one of our first effective hacking based horror movies.
Our protagonist, Lee Na Mi, is your typical South Korean Millennial. Obsessed with her phone and living her entire life through social media. She never realises just how vulnerable her constantly connected nature makes her. All it takes is a clumsy moment of drunken forgetfulness to change her life forever.
Unlocked’s story is not particularly unique but it is easy to relate to. We all fear losing our phones. Usually because of the inherent cost of smart devices and the inconvenience of it all. But we never think of just how much damage the situation could cause. Unlocked stretches reality a little bit to emphasise this threat. But it is still something that will send a shiver up the spine of the average viewer. Unlocked is like a cautionary tale to the modern generation. Losing your phone can result in more than a simple monetary loss.
Lee Na Mi finds herself in an increasingly worsening situation. Ever since she lost her phone and somebody returned it. Things have been going wrong. What starts as simple coincidences. Quickly transforms into life altering events and things she simply can’t explain. Little does she realise. That a sinister individual is watching her every move.
Able to see her through her phone’s camera. He knows what she is typing. Where she works. Where she is going. The passwords she uses, the people she chats with and the secrets she hides. He even knows the door code to her apartment. As mentioned above, our antagonist here isn’t simply a killer. He is someone who wants to torture and torment. In any way and every way possible. It’s gripping stuff.
Something of a murder investigation story plays out alongside Unlocked’s main plotline. Featuring a grizzled detective looking into a series of seemingly connected killings. The movie leans heavily into investigative detective work and familial drama. This really lends Unlocked a feeling of uniqueness. Especially when compared to other similar stalking and social media themed horror movies. There is a real sense of traditional horror to go alongside the more up to date stuff.
The slow unravelling of the mystery really aids the flow of the movie. Piling on a decent helping of thriller like tension. A game of cat and mouse takes place throughout the film. Constantly keeping the viewer guessing and leading up to an interesting twist at the end. It’s decent stuff and helps keep the events taking place on screen fresh.
Many stalking based, voyeuristic, horror movies are guilty of being repetitive. Placing far too much focus on the victim and not enough on the antagonist. Ratter is particularly noteworthy for this, as is The Den. Unlocked does a fantastic job of avoiding this issue. Instead placing much of the focus on the antagonist. We are not just watching a woman having her life ruined. We are watching a group of developed characters. Each having their own motivations.
Our antagonist here is not faceless. He has a backstory and a developed personality. Allowing us to engage in the story from multiple angles. Im Si-Wan is fantastic here. Seamlessly switching from amiable and friendly young man. To a genuinely sinister and unsettling person. Hell bent on causing havoc for our protagonist. Obviously the desire to have a high profile actor in this role. Likely lead to more character development. But it genuinely works really well.
It’s a great way of doing this type of horror. Scenes featuring our antagonist are actually interesting. Watching him plotting and carefully laying out his plans is fascinating. It adds tons to the story and helps to keep you engaged. Unlocked is a long movie, as well. Despite this, it doesn’t feel its length. Likely due to the focus placed on a number of character’s stories. Including that of the antagonist.
South Korea has knocked out some fantastic thriller movies over the years. Many of which have strong horror elements. Old Boy and I Saw The Devil are two great examples of this. Unlocked falls firmly into this category. Feeling far closer to a thriller movie than a horror. That doesn’t mean there is nothing here for horror fans, however. There are some genuinely tense scenes. Especially towards the end of the movie.
Our antagonists motivations here fall firmly into horror territory. Leading to some unsettling moments and some fitting horror imagery. The focus here, however, is primarily on the crime element. Resulting in much of the movie playing out as a crime thriller. I think there is enough cross over to satisfy horror fans, though. The suspense keeps you on the edge of your seat. Even when the movie isn’t attempting to scare the pants off of you.
It does have to be said, however. That Unlocked sometimes steps into the realms of farce. Some of the things our antagonist does are literally ridiculous. Far exceeding any level of realism and often simply highly unlikely. The way he manages to manipulate people around him. As well as the way he manages to interfere with Lee Na Mi’s life can be a bit silly.
Along with this, the movie is guilty of a number of plot holes. Our antagonist’s motivations don’t make a huge amount of sense. Especially when you think of everything in context. And when you consider some of the things that happen. As well as how some of the characters react. It only becomes more and more unlikely. There are a whole bunch of plot holes and logical inconsistencies throughout. As well as a number of things that aren’t well explained. It’s easy to forgive because the movie is enjoyable. But it does bear mention.
Acting is fantastic throughout. Chun Woo-hee, as Lee Na Mi, is great. She manages to bring a decent amount of personality to a character that is rather lacking. Lee Na Mi is a poorly developed character but Woo-hee Chun makes her very likeable. Adding plenty of levity to the story with her strong comedic timing. A cast of side characters all perform their roles admirably. Adding plenty of nuance to the story.
The standout performance here, however. Is the aforementioned Im Si-wan as the antagonist Oh Jun Yeong. Able to effortlessly switch between dorky nice guy and sinister villain. Im Si-wan does a brilliant job of bringing his interesting character to life.
Learning that Si-wan typically plays nice guys in drama or comedy movies. I am somewhat reminded of Elijah Wood’s tremendous turn as the antagonist in Maniac. Sometimes the actors who play nice guys are the best choice for villains. An argument could be made here that Si-wan is a bit too good looking. It’s hard to buy into him being viewed as a creep. He does a decent job, though, regardless.
Kim Tae-joon’s direction is great. Unlocked is well paced and the story progression keeps you engaged. It never lingers too long on any one element. Keen to switch things up frequently keeping the story fresh. I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the earlier shots in the movie. Feeling them to be a bit on the cheesy side. But they disappeared quickly. Transforming to a more traditional style of shooting.
I genuinely enjoyed Unlocked. Expecting something of a boring, milquetoast, stalking movie. I was pleasantly surprised by how much it kept me interested and engaged. Despite feeling far closer to a thriller than anything. There is still plenty to enjoy for horror fans. Telling a traditional tale of stalking and voyeurism. Brought bang up to date with a heavy social media leaning. Unlocked follows a young woman being stalked after losing her phone. What starts as fairly menial inconveniences quickly takes a far more sinister turn. Unlocked features a compelling story and some fantastic acting.
A bit of a farcical plot requires some suspension of disbelief. But this is still an interesting movie with some decent tension. A stalker with some twisted motivations leads us to some unsettling horror imagery. And a murder mystery side plot helps to keep things moving along smoothly. Unlocked is a cautionary tale for the always online generation. Keen to present a warning about just how much can go wrong. Purely through you misplacing your phone. A definite recommend for anyone looking for an easy to watch crime thriller.