First, a little history.
The conflict in Vietnam was brewing from the early 50s. In February 1962 United States established The Military Assistance Command for Vietnam, finally recognising the fact that the country was now at war. The American involvement in Vietnam would last another 13 years, until April 1975, when the last personnel was evacuated from the US embassy in the early hours of the morning.
During this long brutal conflict more than 2,5 million American soldiers served in Vietnam. A interesting - though less publicised - fact, is that the second largest foreign military involvement came from Korea. From September 1963 to the end, The Republic of Korea committed more than 300.000 troops to the conflict. The Korean people did not uniformly support the war, and the Korean soldiers did not return as heroes.
Thus ends fact. Lets turn our attention to fiction.
Come in Butterfly. Donkey Three, come in Butterfly. Were dying out here!
A Korean radio station in Nah Trang, Vietnam receives a disturbing radio transmission. The transmission is a call for help from a unit of soldiers that were dispatched to the so-called R-Point region, 150 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh city, more than six months ago. The unit was never heard from again.
The soldiers were presumed dead, but now there are questions that need answering, and the Korean High Command decides to send another unit to investigate. The unit has 7 days to find any traces of the men who disappeared earlier.
First Lieutenant Choi Tae-In is chosen to lead the soldiers, despite the fact that no one will serve with him, because hes notorious for losing his men in combat. The eclectic unit is comprised of soldiers scheduled to be discharged soon. Theyve already packed their bags, so this little extra job doesnt exactly go down well with the war weary men.
The soldiers make their way thought the thick jungle, to the edge of R-Point, where they come across an inscription on a rock. "He who sheds others blood cannot return". Is it a warning, a curse or something benign left by the Vietcong, who consider the area sacred? Regardless, the soldiers push on, and when night falls they set up camp in the middle of an empty field.
When morning breaks the soldiers have a chance to look around. Through the dense fog a huge abandoned building emerges. Its placed squarely in the middle of the field, almost like a monument. The building is strangely unsettling. Although a thorough search reveals it to be empty, the soldiers cannot shake the feeling that something is wrong. Soon strange things begin to happen. Something is watching them from the shadows. Something evil.
Then the unit suffers the first casualty, when one of the young soldiers are found dead, mutilated.
A desperate Lt. Choi calls HQ to report the incident. When Choi tells his commander the name of the dead soldier the response is immediate. Are you mad? his commander asks. That was one of the men you were send to find!
Choi looks around on the other soldiers. Their faces are filled with fear and disbelief. Oh yes, something is definitely not right at R-point. Not right at all.
A wartime setting is an excellent backdrop for a horror movie. Plenty of blood and gore, lots of creepy mud-covered ruins, and that unmistakable feeling that death could come at any moment. Other films have toyed successfully with this mix. Jacobs Ladder had some very unsettling war-scenes and the low-budget Deathwatch took place almost entirely in the trenches of an abandoned German outpost.
Often a stale story can be reinvigorated by moving it to a new locating, or shifting genre. Thats certainly the case here. A bunch of people killed one after another by a ghostly presence is not exactly a new idea, but transporting the story to 1972 and setting it in enemy country, makes it seem fresh and original.
The high-concept nature of R-Point not withstanding, the film still has to work on the same level as other horror films. Ill be the first to admit that Im often reduced to a shaking mumbling fool, when I come across a good scary movie, but R-Point never freaked me out to such a degree. Perhaps the problem is that its so blatantly obvious that most of these men are going to die, and that theres some really sick s**t going down here!
A good horror film should play with the viewer. Are the characters crazy? Was that a ghost, or just a shadow? Is everybody going to be alright, or will they die an excruciating death? Five minutes into R-Point youll know what kind of ending were facing. The question becomes when will the characters die, as opposed to will the characters die.
In the end, R-Point plays out more like a thriller/mystery, than a horror movie. But its easy to forgive, because as such, it does a truly excellent job. Though I wasnt exactly scared, I was still glued solid to the screen for the duration of the film.
The doomed unit and their search for answers should sustain the interest of most viewers, while the pitch perfect mood is a treat for fans of films like Se7en or Silence of the Lambs. The solid cinematography and the great art direction produces a undeniably effective visual layer that saturates the film, and raise the quality another notch.
R-Point scores most of its points in the last half hour, when the situation escalates into full-blown madness, and the final desperate stand-off is a perfect end to the film. Brutal, uncompromising and inevitable.
Looking for kicks on a friday night? A good solid film to waste 2 hours on? You could do a lot worse than R-Point.