Shudder’s Warning: Do Not Play Explained: When Horror Movies Fight Back, Yurei’s Win
If you are looking for something scary, Shudder’s latest Warning: Do Not Play is a heart-pounding scare-fest for lovers of old school horror.
Shudder’s latest, Warning: Do Not Play will likely remind you of a ton of other horror classics. The Grudge, The Ring, The Blair Witch Project, and oddly Antrum: The Most Deadliest Film Ever Made. It borrows from the best and uses those elements in concert to produce something wholly fresh and utterly terrifying. Warning Do Not Play is a genuinely new take on found footage films that creeps under your skin and whispers in your ear.
Young filmography Mi-Jung is searching for her next movie idea. She loves horror movies and aspires to be the next big thing. Her friend told her about a mysterious, lost film that was banned from viewing. With more than a healthy dose of curiosity, Mi-Jung begins searching for that movie. That search leads her to the film’s director Jae-Hyun(Jin Seon-Kyu). He tries to warn her of the danger she is in, but making her own movie about the cursed movie becomes an obsession. As she gets closer and closer to the truth, the lines between her movie and the banned one become blurred in increasingly bizarre ways. Someone knows all her deepest secrets and is willing to use them to drive her insane. For our protagonist, the question shouldn’t be who is doing it, but has it already been done?
I was surprised by how scary this movie was. Asian horror often has that effect on me. The idea of vengeful unrelenting ghosts, unimaginable creatures, and societal monsters send shivers up my spine. Warning: Do Not Play knows precisely what it is and delivers hard on that promise. Well-paced the fear comes early and rarely lets up. No time is wasted with extended setups or superfluous expository. You know what you need to know and nothing more.
From the first scene, it is obvious we are putty in the hands of a gleeful director who will employ every device to make us jump. I admit to losing my cool just a bit after the first jump scare. Warning: Do Not Play does not rely only on cheap jumps, though. It builds dread with ominous conversations and cool sets. Cinematographer Young-soo Yoon knows how to capture star Ye-ji Seo’s vulnerability and the griminess of evil. Writer/Director Kim Jin-won took a tired premise and flipped it just enough to create something familiar but unique.
Cinematographer Young-soo Yoon uses darkness well. He uses it to restrict the viewer’s vision and to increase the tension. It places the viewer right alongside Mi-Jung. That restriction allows the less is more creature to dominate without a lot of special effects. She is unsettling in both motion and noise. Sound and body movements are used with shadows to make a monster far scarier than one that is 100% seen. Bloodied eyes and stringy hair are enough. The ghost’s signature sound is guaranteed to make you squirm. It is nails on a chalkboard disturbing and is the single best thing in this great movie. The insectile chitter, bubbles, and clicks the ghost makes is straight nightmare fuel.
There are some really cool color saturations that add to rather than detract from the scares. Set design ramps up the horror by layering grotesque objects. It is a feast for the senses with heavy music mingling with heavier breathing…so much heavy breathing. Cool practical blood effects splatter cameras that shouldn’t be there as if it were real life. The breaking of the fourth wall makes you question how real everything is.
How long has Mi-Jung been haunted?
In the final act, everything about her journey is flipped. She has scars to prove she did attempt suicide, but maybe the ghost of Soon-mi was influencing her even then. The film certainly hints at that, although Soon-mi is a manipulative ghost who likes to warp narratives to suit her terror. In all likelihood, she did not influence Mi-Jung’s suicide but has framed everything that happened after finding the movie. Mi-Jung manages to escape and is much better at using those circumstances than the original director Jae-Hyun was.
The Blair Witch has nothing on Soon-mi.
The Blair Witch influences are found throughout the film. At one point they even reference it. Mi-Jung has to go to the basement where she sees someone from the original film she thought she has been watching standing and flailing in the corner just like in the namesake’s final scene. Mi-Jung becomes part of the film as the crew she had been watching is now with her in the basement. It is disconcerting, and it is from that the real terror stems. Like the Blair Witch who kills for revenge and alters reality, Soon- mi is violent, terrifying, and very confusing. That usage is incredibly effective.
What was real?
Mi-Jung has a troubled past. It is hard to tell what she imagines and what is memory. She seems so fragile and easily manipulated; it is highly plausible she sees patterns where there are none. All that aside, her life becomes art when she falls down the rabbit hole and into the movie she has been watching. Just when you think you have wrapped your brain around the film within a film that comes to life angle, the previous director who is way off his rocker kidnaps Mi-Jung.
These people existed at one point, but maybe their deaths are all a figment of a disturbed mind. Everything was a plot element to be used in her final movie. She does have scars from an altercation, but we have no way of knowing if they are self-inflicted. She may have sacrificed her friend to escape. Maybe that’s all it took to appease Soon-mi? That may be all it took to break the cycle and escape. Jae-Hyun’s final words allow the possibility that this is all in her mind, and she is either dead or in an institution rather than a famous director.
What is Soon-mi?
She is a Yurei. They are ghosts intent on revenge. They have been wronged and will never stop avenging their deaths. Often they attack people who stumble inadvertently into their sphere and had nothing to do with the original death. Yurei’s have the ability to affects their victim’s minds and physical bodies. Soon-mi died when filming the film in 1980 the first crew was documenting. The crew left her to burn and hang when a fire broke out. In the tradition of Ringu she may have expanded her reach by allowing Mi-Jung’s film to continue. Think In The Mouth Of Madness with a Korean spin.
If the Blair Witch Project were real and you had the chance to visit the actual GPS coordinates in the woods, would you? Should you? If you did, wouldn’t you be inviting evil? Those are the questions in Kim Jin-won’s terrifying vision. Touches of Hickcock and fantastic horror games like Camera Obscura are used smartly.
As Shakespeare wrote, “These violent ends have violent delights.” Maybe when you surround yourself with horror, you become horrific. I sure hope not, or as a critic of genre programming, I’d be well and truly fucked. Watch Warning: Do Not Play on Shudder now. If you need a code for a free 30-day trial, click here and enter Signal.
As the Television Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.