Saturday, 7 August 2010

A Tale of Two Sisters

When I first watched this Korean horror movie about four or five years back I thought it was interesting but flawed. Now, having been prompted by someone's praise to watch it again, I think I was inattentive. The plot makes perfect sense - but you have to sit through some deliberately disorientating and harrowing stuff to get right to the ending. Along the way you get not one but two major plot twists, which I can't discuss because it would scupper your enjoyment, dear viewer. So what else can I talk about?

The basic setup. The two sisters of the title return to the family home in the country to live with their father and stepmother. Not surprisingly, the latter is unpopular with the girls (who are early teenagers, I'd guess). The father seems remote and ineffectual while stepmom attempts to play happy families. It emerges that she was a nurse and worked with the girl's late mother. It's hinted that the mother was unstable and this contributed to her death in some way.

What else? The older, tougher sister, Su-mi, is out to protect her younger sibling, Su-yeon, from stepmother. Much seething resentment, things left unsaid, meaningful glares. The scenes between the sisters are touching, emphasising the girls' loneliness and sense of helplessness in the face of events. Indeed, all the performances are darn good.

Soon after the girls return to the somewhat Gothicky home, strange things start to happen. Su-mi has weird dreams, offering some good variations on standard Asian horror imagery. A tense dinner party disintegrates when a guest has an epileptic seizure and sees 'a girl under the sink'. There is much made of a closet that terrifies Su-yeon. Odd events multiply and domestic strife worsens. Is the house haunted? If so, is it by the mother or someone, or something, else? Eventually there is blood - lots of it, in fact. And there are revelations aplenty.

Look, I can't really explain this movie. It's intriguing to see just how far writer/director Ji-Woon Kim takes the unreliable narrator concept, which is always tricky to pull off in the literal medium of cinema. On second viewing I found this film absorbing, moving and at times genuinely frightening. One to watch, and think about, and watch again.


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