The Piper (2015)

NOVEMBER 2, 2022


We’ve all seen trailers that have perhaps spoiled a film’s plot points, but The Piper is the rare one where the damn poster gave its 3rd act away. The cover of the DVD (which I got for a buck, so I can’t really get upset about this to be clear!) shows the film’s hero in bloody clown makeup, not wholly unlike The Crow or something along those lines, seemingly leading a charge of rats. The synopsis clarifies things, saying that a man is betrayed by the people who hired him and killed his loved ones, so... kind of obvious what this movie is about, right? A sort of hybrid between The Crow and Willard, more or less?

Well, I mean sure, eventually. But the movie is 108 minutes long and there are only 23 left (including end credits) by the time the thing that needs to be revenged actually occurs. So the poster image of the hero in his makeup, leading the rats, is akin to making a poster for Avengers: Endgame with everyone gathered at Tony’s funeral or something (to be fair, this cover is actually slightly less spoiler-y than the original poster, which shows the actual final scene!). Yes, you won’t have the context, but it only takes a few minutes of the movie, once you know who the guy is (and, more importantly, that he’s not one to wear makeup nor is he on the rats’ side) to put it together in your head. Instead, the first hour or so is completely horror free (other than a few grisly shots of the rat’s reign of terror on the local cat population and a few scattered flashbacks involving leprosy), telling a tale of a simple man and his ailing son who are trekking to Seoul in hopes of getting the kid treatment for his tuberculosis. Along the way they find a village where everyone seems unnerved by the presence of a stranger, except for their leader who welcomes the pair into his home so they can rest for a bit before continuing on their way. Learning about their rat problem, the man offers to help drive them out with his music in exchange for some money to help pay for the kid’s medical needs.

And so we watch as he tries some things, eventually succeeding, while also becoming friendly with some of the townsfolk and in particular a widow who takes a liking to him. Knowing that it’s a genre film (a Korean one at that!) we can be sure that something tragic (and likely brutal) will happen regardless of what the poster promised, but I must admit I checked the runtime more than once, curious when it would get to that point. Not that I was bored or anything, but I knew what was happening: the longer we spent with this kind man and his adorable son, the harder it would be to watch when the inevitable happened. I couldn't help but think of Pumpkinhead; even before I had a son of my own I was left kind of devastated by the inciting incident (as a dad now, I can’t even watch it), and that happened like 20 minutes into the movie! Here we get to know them so well that each extra minute just made it that much sadder when it happened.

Worse, they salt the wound not once but twice by giving us reason to think maybe the kid will be OK. First the townsfolk just drive the two of them out after cutting off a few of the Piper’s figures (presumably taking away his ability to play), giving them food that is poisoned – and the kid is about to eat it but stops, and you’re like “Phew, he knew better!” Then he realizes the flute is gone, so he sneaks back into town to retrieve it, so you’re probably thinking “Oh no, they’ll catch him and this time they won’t let him go!” But no! He gets his father’s prized possession and heads back out… only to then take a bite of the poisoned food after all (so we realize that he didn’t stop earlier out of suspicion – he got distracted by noticing that the flute was missing). It’s such a gut-wrenching moment, the sort of thing that if I were to rewatch the movie I’d be hoping that somehow it’ll work out differently on this viewing (a strange phenomenon that I experience on rare occasions; one of the most notable is in Cast Away when he loses Wilson. EVERY GODDAMN TIME I watch that movie I hope this time he’ll wake up and retrieve him in time!).

Making the whole thing sadder is that most of the issues start with the belief that the Piper is in fact a spy for the Communists, as the movie is set in the immediate aftermath of the Korean War. The chief is telling his people that the war is still going, to exert control and keep some secrets of his own from getting out, so he worries that the Piper will tell the locals the truth. And his main bit of “proof” is a mysterious note that neither man can read, which the Piper says is the address of the doctor in Seoul but the chief believes to be information for the commie spies. Only us in the audience know the truth: it’s just a mean slur at the Piper’s expense, written in English. There’s something kind of heartbreaking about both the hero and the villain going to extreme lengths because they weren’t educated enough to decipher a simple four word note, as you realize literally nothing in the movie would have happened if either of them could read it: the man wouldn’t have been traveling to Seoul in the first place, and even if he was, the chief would have known he really was just a poor outcast trying to care for his son.

Anyway, for what it is, it’s pretty good, though the slow pacing to get to the “horror” part of the movie will likely be too much to ask for impatient viewers, and admittedly there isn’t much inventiveness or excitement to seeing him get his revenge, as it’s quickly raced through and relies on not always convincing CGI rats swarming toward one of the town jerks. But as a tragic drama (based on the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” story, yes) it’s a solid little flick, and certainly worth the buck I paid. Hell it’s probably the best of the movies I’ve gotten at Dollar Tree! Put THAT on the poster, at least it ain’t spoiling the ending.

What say you?


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