I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: slasher-style films are a dime a dozen. For studios, they tend to be a low-cost investment almost always promising a respectable return. What varies is the set-up – who’s the killer, who’s his (or her) backstory, what’s the hack-slash-cut weapon of choice, who’re the victims, etc. Of course, those are a lot of variables, and that’s primarily why studios will almost always produce some variation on the original formula of “boy meets girl, girl rejects boy, boy buys machete, town lives in peril.”
Hae-won (played by the lovely Seong-won Ji) has one seriously bad day at work, and, after she takes it out on a co-worker, is placed on a forced leave of absence in order to get her life in order. Distraught and uncertain of what to do next, she decides to travel to Moo-do Island – the home of her youth – where her childhood friend, Bok-nam (Young-hee Seo), still lives with family. However, Bok-nam has been dealing with stresses all of her own – a philandering husband, a sexually abusive brother-in-law, and a daughter whose the victim of domestic abuse – so she decides to enlist Hae-won in a devious plot: help her escape from the island to Seoul where she will raise her daughter away from the torments of the other island women. As fate would have it, Bok-nam’s sanity is going out of style, and, unless she receives help of some kind, she’s about to embrace the kind of madness that goes hand-in-hand with homicide.
I’ll say this right away: despite a relatively tame first half, BEDEVILLED may not be for everyone. This isn’t to say that the second half is particularly graphic (which it is); it’s just to say that, as a revenge picture, it has a very slowly percolating set-up. In fact, the front half the film – Hae-won’s time in Seoul that sets up her work vacation, Hae-won’s arrival on Moo-do, and the slow realization of what Bok-nam’s existence has become – is necessarily slow; there’s a lot of ground to cover – these two women have a history, and some of that is explored via flashbacks as well – and all I can say is that you’ll have to trust me when I tell you it’s absolutely needed for the film’s climax to have the impact it deserves. While the moments that explore revenge are relatively graphic, I’d maintain that the picture isn’t about the glorification of the bloodspray. Rather, this story is about the descent into madness. It’s an examination of the causes – big and small – that push these women to make the choices they do, and then it’s about the consequences of their decisions.
That said, both ladies turn in some very impressive performances. Seong-won Ji brings some tremendous subtlety to her professional haughtiness; she’s built walls around her world, and, despite what see witnesses going on in her surroundings, she refuses to invest herself emotionally in anything resembling compassion much less justice. Also, Young-hee Seo steals the show here, gravitating between two very different performances as the happy-go-lucky island girl who gradually turns into a raving lunatic with one farm tool too many. It’s a brilliantly measured performance, one that pays off quite well in the conclusion though the script flirts with the all-too-cliché imperviousness most serial killers somehow magically possess. Also, the supporting cast of quietly oppressive women and physically abusive men each have some fine moments, and it’s the ensemble that wins here as each player contributes significantly to the dynamic of the group.
Despite the obvious preachiness of the set-up, BEDEVILLED goes somewhere I didn’t quite see coming. It’s equally dark and calculating. Some folks may find it a bit uneven, but, as I’ve tried to be clear, there are rewards for the patient viewer. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the violence.
BEDEVILLED is produced by Boston Investments, Filma Pictures, Tori Pictures, and the Korean Film Council (in association with). DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Well Go USA. The film looks and sounds exceptional; great care went into producing the film, and I’m impressed that as much attention accompanied the disc’s manufacture as sound in horror films can make or break the experience … and this one is worth hearing as well as seeing. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the picture played at the Cannes Independent Film Festival; was the winner for ‘Best Film’ at the 2011 Gerardmer Film Festival; won the ‘Best New Director’ award at the 2010 Grand Bell Awards; and won ‘Best Actress,’ ‘Best of Puchon,’ and ‘Eterna’ awards at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. Sadly, as is often the case with these imports, there are no significant special features to speak of; there’s a brief 15-minute ‘making of’ special that’s mostly a compilation of production efforts.
RECOMMENDED. It’s more than a bit uneven, but BEDEVILLED is a modern horror story with teeth … well, sickles, that is. I would imagine the primary problem with the picture is that the audience drawn to the first half is probably not interested in the second half, and those folks looking for a modern twist on the horror/slasher mythos is probably unmoved by the long (but necessary) social commentary set-up of the first hour-plus. Still, performances are solid, and, if you’re around for the second half when all of the bodies start piling up, you’re in for a bloody treat (pun intended).
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD screener of BEDEVILLED for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
Korean horror may be more or less a mixed bag these days, but when it comes to the thriller genre, Korean cinema have yet to miss a beat. First-time director Jang Cheol-Soo’s (who had assisted Kim Ki-Duk with many projects) film “Hangul: Kim Bok-Nam Salinsageonui Jeonmal” (translated; “The Whole Story of the Bok-Nam Murder Case“) was a runaway hit in South Korea, and now has been released in the U.S. with the title “Bedevilled” after being selected as an … more