The arrival of a mysterious Japanese hermit in a small South Korean village sparks suspicion and escalating stories amongst the townsfolk, which quickly turn to hysteria when a strange virus begins to cause the people to turn violent and kill each other. A bumbling Police Sergeant becomes involved in the investigation and soon learns his young daughter may have contracted the same virus.
This acclaimed horror / thriller is directed with no-end of visual flair by Na Hong-jin (The Chaser) and is filled with interesting, flawed but very believable characters and not-unlike-Seven atmosphere in a constantly rain-swept village. It has a very compelling mystery at it’s core and several strong performances that kept me interested. The inclusion of Korean and Christian beliefs and superstition mixed with the spreading of rumours and prejudice towards the mystery hermit was also a clever approach. Add to this some gorgeous cinematography as well as several memorable scenes and I was having a great experience with this latest Korean effort.
However as the story neared it’s conclusion, a twist turned events on their head but thankfully impressed me with how well it suddenly made everything fall into place … that was until a second twist turned that revelation on it’s head also, and then I was left confused. Up until that point I’d been gripped and the very well observed and powerful ‘father trying to save his daughter’ narrative was looking to make this an easy recommendation. But despite a dark-as-it-gets ending (which did leave it’s mark) I came way feeling rather cheated. Shame.
Usually each year there’s one horror movie that gets hyped up by the media as being the scariest movie of the year or words to that effect. This is one such movie, although I usually take such hype with a pinch of salt. After all I’ve been stung in the past (cough … The Blair Witch Project … cough).
Set in New England sometime in the 17th century, a deeply religious family are banished from their plantation after the father’s belief’s don’t concur with that of the town elders, and so they set up home on a small farm complete with a horse, a couple of lambs and a black goat called Phillip. However one day their baby boy vanishes mysteriously following eldest daughter Thomasin playing with him, and superstition and paranoia creep in.
This slow burning, decidedly creepy movie boasts several excellent performances especially from Anya Taylor-Joy as pubescent daughter Thomasin and Ralph Ineson as struggling father William. As crops fail and fears of what lurks in the woods build, I was thoroughly drawn in. It’s a simple tale told with gradual intensity and authenticity. Even the dialogue is accurate, old-English which some viewers (myself included) may take a bit of getting used to (think a less poetic Shakespeare). However as the plot develops it’s clear this is exploring some very dark stuff … freaky religious imagery that seriously disturbs and evil that may or may not be all in the family’s heads. The ending especially is one of the most unnerving conclusions to a movie I’ve seen in a long time and left me shaken.
Writer & Director Robert Eggers has crafted a unique experience of a movie, not really like anything else around right now and fills it with gorgeous photography and foreboding atmosphere. It won’t be for everyone however; it’s dialogue is tough, it’s slow and it’s not really about gore or jump-scares (although there’s a stunning one towards the end). Yet for me, somewhat burnt out on the usual horror subjects like masked killers and haunted houses … this was refreshing and incredibly effective.
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