AUGUST 30, 2010
Hey all right! Another overly serious revenge flick! This one with the added bonus of suggested child molestation! You know, it's a good thing that everyone at Frightfest is so nice and that the after-movie entertainment (read: drinking at the Phoenix) is so lively, because the number of movies like Bedevilled were bumming me out. I mean, we're all sitting for five days in a theater with little leg room, eating lousy popcorn... the films needed to be getting us pumped up! Almost all of the "fun" horror films (i.e. Hatchet 2, Primal, Alien vs. Ninja) were in the first two days of the festival, and today in particular was a giant downer, with the only fun movie being Last Exorcism, which I already saw. In fact, even though I was tired and way behind on reviews, I was seriously considering watching Last again just so I could be part of a (hopefully) lively crowd, the way they were at first.
Now, I'm not saying all horror movies have to be enjoyable and cheer-ready. On the contrary, that would annoy me even more I think. No, I just want a balance - if we're watching a dry documentary about censorship, and then a politically minded, humor free zombie film (The Dead), then I think the next film should have an element of fun to it (especially in hindsight, as the film that followed this one may have been the most depressing, humorless film in the entire festival). I probably would have liked Bedevilled even more had it been the alternate in a day of otherwise high-spirited entries, as opposed to part of the group.
Because while it is a slow burn, the payoff is worth the wait, and it's the rare Korean horror film that is more concerned with characters than crazy visuals and convoluted back-stories/twists. The two main characters are former childhood friends who reunite after one of them (Hae-won) is attacked in Seoul and decides to recuperate at the island where she lived when she was a child, where the other girl (Bok-nam) still lives, longing to escape to the big city. The island only has about 9 occupants, and she is the only able-bodied woman, so she is harassed by the elder women, and the only option for the three men (she is married to one, but it seems they all just have their way with her whenever they please). She also has a daughter, and we eventually learn that her abusive husband is not the child's father (re-read the first paragraph for a clue as to how this particular plot point becomes important). Ultimately, she snaps and begins to strike back at the oppressive residents, including Hae-won, though we do not understand why until the end of the film. It's not exactly a twist, so I wish they had revealed this a bit sooner, since it's sort of confusing why Bok-nam is suddenly trying to kill the woman who, as far as we know, has been trying to help her, albeit in a limited way (as we see from the opening in Seoul, she's afraid of confrontation, but this hardly seems grounds for trying to cut her goddamn head off with a sickle).
It also makes it a little hard to tell who we were supposed to be rooting for when the two women come to blows in the climax. The residents are so hateful, the audience actually DID cheer when Bok-nam first began her killing spree (it's rare to hear a thousand people clapping at the sight of an old woman taking a large knife to her throat). But when she turns her sights on Hae-won, she once again becomes a villain, even when we see why her friend has earned a spot on her "to kill" list. It's like, the people who root for Jason or Freddy don't suddenly change their alliance when he only has one girl left, but that's sort of what it's like here. It doesn't help that Hae-won basically disappears from the movie for two long chunks as we learn all about Bok-nam's horrible life, as well as the bulk of her revenge rampage (Hae-won is sleeping, apparently).
But it's a testament to how engaging both the characters and story are that, despite being what was I think the longest movie in the entire festival (just under two hours) and not in English that I stayed awake through the whole thing, making me 2-2 for the Asian horror films (usually the most likely to put me to sleep) after impressively remaining awake through Dream Home two nights before. I was never operating on more than 4-5 hrs sleep each day at the festival, coupled with jet lag and a lot of walking around (keep in mind I spend most of my day on my ass whether there's a film festival or not). One nice thing about slow burns is that you are determined to know when/where the horror comes into play (as long as the story and characters are interesting, anyway), and in this particular film's case, the horror is quite good and fairly fast paced, as she makes her way around the island, killing just about everyone. The anticipation kept me alert; the action kept me wide-eyed. However, I could not escape a call of nature that struck about halfway through the film. I held out as long as I could, and once the film seemed to be over I bolted out, only to discover that there was indeed another couple of scenes (bookending the ones at the top of the film, before the island stuff). And thus I can make another minor complaint about the film - the ending gets a bit draggy. Even before I left I felt that it could have been wrapped up sooner, so the fact that there was another 5 minutes after that makes it even more of a red mark. Just an FYI - it's OK for a character to "die" only the one time; we don't need a hero or a villain suddenly spring back and carry out another act. And we certainly don't need both.
No one from the film was there, so I don't know what the release plans are for the film. As it is Korean but not about ghosts, I doubt we will see it come to the States on DVD right around the time of a remake, which is the usual process (especially now that Tartan US is no more). Though, I would actually love to see how a remake would be handled, as the vastly different attitudes toward women here would be a good challenge for the screenwriters - there's no way a line like "A woman is only happy when sucking on a cock" (SAID by a woman no less!) would work over here. Even if it was Betty White saying it, which would probably be their first (shitty) idea.
What say you?