Oct 25, 2012

Bedevilled (2010)
Director: Jang Cheol-soo
Writers: Choi Kwang-young
Starring: Seo Young-hee, Ji Sung-won, and Park Jeong-hak

The Plot: Bedevilled opens by showing two punks beat on a woman, and it turns out that these two goons actually beat the young girl to death. Hae-won (Ji Sung-won), who works at a loan office, just so happened to be the only witness to this crime. However, when the police drag her in to stand as a witness against these thugs, she repeats the fact that she didn’t see the faces of the attackers and thus cannot testify against these men. The two punks are released, and they aren’t very thankful for her allowing them to walk free. They immediately threaten and harass her. Hae-won returns to work, but finds herself having a war of words with one of her coworkers. After this incident, she is locked inside of a restroom stall in what appears to be a practical joke. Being filled with anger, Hae-won slaps the coworker who she was having problems with earlier, thinking that this person was responsible for the “joke,” but it turns out that it was all merely an accident due to a janitor jamming the door. Hae-won is relieved of her duties and takes an extended vacation. She returns to her home island, where nothing has really changed. While in town, she visits with her former best friend, Kim Bok-nam (Seo Young-hee), but finds that this good friend is in a great deal of trouble. Her husband is abusive and repeatedly cheats on her in their own home. As Bok-nam is pressed further and further, this poor abused woman finds out an even darker secret hiding right under her nose. She is pushed and pushed until she seems to be heading towards a mental breaking point.

The Review
Being that this is October, I am doing my best to cover as many horror movies as possible. Yet, when you delve into a genre that is this diverse, you are going to come up with some very interesting divergences. Some focus on monsters who creep around on the outskirts of mankind, some focus on the afterlife and spirits that haunt us. Some, however, focus on the fear that lives at home. The dark entities who give us strife during our everyday lives. Although these monsters may not be hideously disfigured, they can certainly hurt us in the very same ways. Bedevilled is not a horror movie in the strictest sense of the word, but it is a movie that I would not fight to keep outside of the genre. A dark thriller about pain, torment, suffering, and change, this is a movie that intends to push buttons more than just elicit nauseous laughs from an audience full of kids. Bedevilled refuses to take the easy road in any of its narrative twists, and if nothing else, it’s hard not to respect the movie for trying to be slightly different.

The film takes a very interesting route by providing a lead who is far from the idealized human being. The movie opens Hae-won (Ji Sung-won), who is the main protagonist for the first half of the movie, essentially berating an elderly woman who asks for a loan. As if this weren’t enough to make the audience dislike the character, this is followed up by her allowing two murderers get away with their crime. Granted, in the film’s logic she can’t be convinced that they did it, but the argument against her actions are further solidified when she is actually physically threatened by these two punks. Furthermore, we then watch as she berates her colleague for helping out the previously mentioned elderly woman, and we are only ten minutes into this movie. When this character is forced to take a vacation, we see that this provides her a second chance with the audience. However, even after one hour into the movie, she still refuses to step forward and showcase any sort of sympathy or help to her fellow human beings. After such a long gestating period, this character almost seems impossible to save. While the character inevitably does have an arch to her and the growth of the character does in fact make sense, the movie becomes partially frustrating due to how utterly rude this leading protagonist usually is.

Unfortunately, I do feel that a slight amount of steam is lost when the film moves to its island location. Some of the twists that we run into during this section does come across as being slightly predictable. There is the local girl who pines for the big city, we have the city slicker who used to be one of these locals, and we watch as these two have their own very different problems. There are some interesting tidbits in here though, including some eroticism that seems almost out of place amongst the two female leads. There is a hint of eroticism during a scene where these two share a bath together, but the moment is soon over and the audience is left guessing at what this might have implied. Along with this small tease of sexuality, this section of the movie is also filled with a few very animalistic sex scenes that are surprisingly realistic and occasionally scary. The drastic change from the urban environment to this serene country landscape is quite strange, but both landscapes provide some very beautiful cinematography. If there is one thing that the film does well, it is in the visual side of the equation.

While the majority of the film does take place upon the island, this section of the movie does at times seem rather familiar. We have seen much of this material covered before. An abused wife living in a rural setting? Fried Green Tomatoes and maybe even Delores Claiborne. A wealthy person trying to fit in with common folk? The Mission, The Bird People From China, and several other notable films. There is very little that stands out from the earlier half of the island sequences. After the first fifteen minutes, the rest of the first hour seemed to drag for me. I began to wonder what the film might actually have of interest in store for me. The character of Hae-won is completely abandoned for a while once she finds her room on the island. Instead, we are shown what a hopeless and brutal place this island is for Bok-nam. This poor woman is beaten within an inch of her life quite often, and we see her husband’s family dominate her life before her child is finally taken from her. After this setup, the movie does find a very intriguing foothold and almost becomes an exploitation title. If nothing else, the last half hour of Bedevilled stands out as a resourceful and chilling thriller that rarely has a comfortable moment.

The Conclusion
The movie, despite its title and the cover art, isn’t entirely a horror movie as one might expect. Not in any traditional sense, of course. In the same way that transgressive films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and even Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom can be construed as horror movies, Bedevilled earns its spot primarily because of its anger and focus on violence during the final half of the movie. The film ultimately tells a tale of vengeance, but along the way it intends to brutalize the viewer by showing off the unfair and cruel nature of our protagonist’s life. The question of the film is, “what does it take for a person to finally break?” and this is a movie that shows a character who IS pushed to some fairly excessive levels. When the threats and violence become too much, finally a violent retribution is in order. How this all ties together is either very engaging because of its less-than-typical approach (the switching up of lead characters, the change in pacing and thesis) or it is too decidedly bizarre for its own good. I find myself on both sides of the fence with this issue, but if I had to lean one way over the other, I do feel the need to commend the movie for trying something different. Overall, the movie earns a three out of five. In time, I may see it as a four, but for now I’ll go with my conservative instincts.

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