In 2009, eleven years since the release of the genre-defining Whispering Corridors, and four since since the fourth entry into the series, Voice, the fifth Whispering Corridors film was released. Entitled A Blood Pledge (여고괴담5: 동반자살), it might also be the last Whispering Corridors film, as it’s now been over five years since its release and there’s been no word of a sixth. And part of that might be because A Blood Pledge represents a nadir for the series, even as a relatively tolerable horror film.
Like Voice, A Blood Pledge opts to shift genre from straight horror to mystery and returns to the theme of suicide, previously a critical component of Memento Mori. In this case, we open with a trio of students, Soi (Sohn Eun-seo), Yoo-jin (Oh Yeon-seo), and Eun-young (Song Min-jeong), pledging to commit suicide together in the school chapel. But later we only see a different student, Eon-joo (Jang Kyung-ah), plummet to her death before the eyes of her younger sister, Jung-eon (Yoo Shin-ae).
The three survivors are tight-lipped as to what happened that night, but cracks form between the survivors as guilt mounts, other students gossip, and the ghost of Eon-joo begins to haunt the school.
Structurally, A Blood Pledge is well set up as a mystery. As the film progresses, the mounting tensions result in revelations of why the three girls would want to commit suicide and just who Eon-joo was to them, revealing at the end what happened. However, the story never really gives any of the four main characters development beyond a single note, stymieing interest in their stories, and then opts to send one character to crazy town in both motivation and actions in the final act. What she does directly contradicts what she was doing throughout most of the film and is unbelievable as a result.
What’s more, first-time director Lee Jong-yong opts to weave in a number of flashbacks, but has problems signifying them, so it’s often confusing whether we’re watching something happening in the past or the present. This might not be a problem except that many of the included scenes don’t really serve a strong narrative purpose, leaving the viewer unsure of why they watched that scene and how it leads into the next.
In addition to the flashback problems, the ghostly haunting moments in the film feel quite generic with Eon-joo showing up to scare or punish characters in ways that I think anyone who has watched a few ghost films would have already seen many times. All the previous Whispering Corridors films at least managed to have some distinctiveness to their hauntings. When the most memorable moment of ghostly vengeance in A Blood Pledge results in a cartoonish explosion of blood, it’s clear that the film is suffering from a lack of imagination.
In terms of production values, this is probably on par with Voice in terms of being the most slick of the series, though neither have the wow factor of the titular staircase in Wishing Stairs. The choice of a Catholic school was interesting, but A Blood Pledge failed to really take advantage of the potentially Gothic setting. Finally, the performers are mostly just adequate, either because of the thinness of their roles or their limited talent, which further limits the impact of the film.
So while the Whispering Corridors series might have played a big role in defining the modern Korean horror genre, the fifth in the series ends up feeling quite generic. Its story lacks definition and character, its direction is often confusing and unimaginative, and while the film looks decent, it fails to really distinguish itself in terms of art direction or performances. One could certainly get from the start to the end of A Blood Pledge without too much frustration as it mechanically provides the elements needed for a horror film, but it’s also hard not to ask why you watched the film when the credits finally roll.
And perhaps that’s why the film could retain the legacy as the film that sank a genre-defining series. 5/10.
Where to watch it: Fortunately, A Blood Pledge got fairly wide DVD distribution and is still available in North American, European, and Asian DVD editions, including the original Korean Region 3 DVD. It is also available through iTunes in Great Britain.