Panic Fest 2023: Mount Chiak is a wild ride through familiar territory
This story is part of our coverage of Panic Fest 2023. Read more from our film team here.
The premise of Sun-Ung KIM’s Mount Chiak is simple enough. A mountain biking club heads to the titular mountain located in Gangwon-do, South Korea. Two of them, cousins Minjun (Yoon Kyun-sang) and Hyunji (Kim Ye-won), have access to a cabin there that once belonged to their uncle and father, respectively, before he mysteriously vanished in the area years before.
Naturally, that disappearance will factor into events here sooner or later. Indeed, even before they reach the cabin, weird things begin happening to the group, including the obligatory harbinger encounter. Here is a seemingly unbalanced old lady who warns them they will all die if they proceed. “There are always old ladies like that in the country,” one of them quips.
Once they arrive at their destination, the strange happenings amp up at a rapid pace, with mysteriously stacked stones and a strange red light heralding a series of bizarre events, including a camouflaged hand, a raided fridge, creepy sleepwalking, Sumerian sigils drawn in blood, a grisly encounter with the local wildlife, and, eventually, neatly dismembered corpses. It’s not even getting too far into the territory of spoilers to say that this is high strange horror, a subgenre I’m not sure I’ve ever seen tackled by a Korean filmmaker before, even if this iteration also seems to have been run through a decidedly Evil Dead filter.
The result throws a lot of things at the wall—not all of which stick—but it’s a bold, ambitious, and fun ride along the way, complete with plenty of dramatic drone shots of people riding mountain bikes through the woods. The buildup may sometimes be too random and chaotic to have the effect that it’s going for, but when the climax comes, it lands deftly and leaves more implications lurking in the wings than the number of specifics it actually spells out.
It’s perhaps a little surprising how many parallels there are between Mount Chiak and Blue Hour, the film I watched just before it. While Blue Hour aimed for restraint, however, Mount Chiak chucks that out the window. And where Blue Hour’s reach exceeded its grasp, Mount Chiak delivers its odd narrative coup de grace effectively enough that the film’s climax becomes probably its strongest moment, rather than the disappointing deflation it easily could have been.