A family struggles to deal with a horrible tragedy.
I’ve seen quite a few of Kim Jee-woon’s features (six out of his ten features available in the US), and for the most part I’ve really enjoyed them. His movies tend to have scenes that are slightly long winded, but then he usually rewards you with shocking scenes of action and violence, or, in the case of this film, incredible atmosphere followed by moments of truly scary imagery and truly nightmarish mania. This isn’t my favorite of Jee-woon Kim’s oeuvre- it’s more slowly paced than his others, and the story is a little more disturbing than exhilarating. That’s not to say this isn’t a good film- it certainly is- but Kim Jee-woon has shown growth over the years (aside from one failed American mainstream attempt), his films have gotten better, more emotionally charge and more visceral. This film is certainly difficult to stomach at parts, but it’s no “I Saw the Devil” (2010). What I do like about this film however is that it plays like a sort of fairy tale, and it has many elements that feel sort of ethereal. As a whole, I loved the atmosphere of this movie- I thought it was just ominous and grim enough to keep me intrigued through the slower bits, and when the revelations started to come, they were certainly worth the wait.
“There’s something strange in this house.”
Soo-mi (Soo-jung Lim, “I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Ok”) and Soo-yeon (Geun-young Moon, “Innocent Steps”) are sisters who have both just returned home from a stay at a mental hospital. Upon returning, the sisters seem a little shell-shocked. We learn that they were sent to the hospital after the death of their mother, though how their mother died we are not told. Their father (Kap-su Kim, “I Saw the Devil”) has already remarried by the time they move back into the house and neither of the sisters cares very much for their new stepmother (Jung-ah Yum, “The Mimic”). As the sisters reacquaint themselves with the outside world they both begin to experience strange happenings, possibly at the hands of their new stepmother or maybe from something supernatural. The sisters navigate the home and try to maintain their sanity.
As I mentioned above, I really liked the atmosphere in this movie, and a lot of that had to do with the locations, production design, sound design, and color grading throughout the film. When the girls first come back from the asylum, the world is illuminated warmly with golden hues and yellow undertones, but as the film goes on, the golden warm colors begin to melt into icy blues and pale, sickly milky colors. It gives the film a dynamic feeling when it slowly shifts from warm to cool- it gives the locations a sudden uneasy feeling. The production design too, was great. During the day, the home looked like a rather upscale but ordinary home, but during the night, Jee-woon Kim shoots the scenes in a way that casts dark shadows in the corners of the room, and the ceilings often loom about ominously. Again, it gives the location a very dramatic dynamic shift. Another thing that really helped set the tone was the sound design. In many horror films, sound design can be one of the most important elements to creating a tense atmosphere (just look at this year’s “A Quiet Place”). Sound, or the absence of sound, can really affect how a scene plays, and this movie messes around with sound in wonderful ways. For the majority of the film, we see things through the eyes of Soo-mi, and there are many long takes when the only sound is her breathing, and it’s incredibly intense. The editing also helps create more atmosphere; the story unfolds gradually, and revelations come slowly, making each twist really sting.
The acting is another thing that was executed really well in this movie. The two girls must’ve been in their mid to late teens, but they held their own against the adults (I’d go so far as to say that Soo-jung Lim out acted all the others). As much of this film’s tension comes from the confusion that Soo-mi feels, it’s important that her confusion come off as terrifying to her, and it certainly does.
This film is a little slower paced than some of Jee-woon Kim’s other entries, and he probably could’ve been trimmed in a few scenes, but overall I did really enjoy this movie. I feel like I enjoyed Kim’s other films more and so I went into it expecting more from this one. This film just tried to be a bit too artsy at times and it didn’t really work for me. However, in the end, this movie is filled with twists and turns and enough creepy imagery, unsettling atmosphere, and startling moments to satisfy genre fans.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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