Saturday, 20 October 2012

Bedevilled (2010)

Bedevilled starts off as a slow, dramatic piece, develops into something harrowing and even difficult to watch and then moves to full-blown horror for a finale that actually provides quite a welcome relief from the casual brutality and nastiness of the preceding hour or so.

Seong-won Ji plays Hae-won, a stressed out bank worker who decides to take a vacation at an island she used to live on as a child. She gets to meet up with her childhood friend, Kim Bok-nam (played by Yeong-hie Seo) and soon starts to appreciate her chance to relax. It's just a shame that she didn't take up the offer from her friend a long time ago. Kim Bok-nam has written many letters but Hae-won didn't reply. After only a short while on the island it soon becomes clear why Kim Bok-nam always seemed so desperate to hear from her friend and why she likes to think about life off the island. She is being constantly abused by her unfaithful husband (Jeong-hak Park) and none of the other women in the small population seem to think that there's anything wrong with the way that she's being treated, even while it is happening in front of her daughter. But there are many years of resentment and anger just waiting to burst out of that victimised woman and it may only take one tragic moment to unleash it all.

Directed by Chul-soo Jang and written by Kwang-young Choi, Bedevilled becomes quite horrific even before it tilts into the standard genre moments. There are times when it looks beautiful, including quite a gorgeous final shot, but it's hard to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the setting and the cinematography when so much being shown is just downright ugly.

The film shows how communities can allow abuse to go unchecked through a mixture of inaction and even, good grief, approval. It's hard to decide who the worst person onscreen actually is: the abuser, the community not taking the abuser to task or the outsider who knows that it's wrong but doesn't do anything to help. The film actually, on the surface, gives viewers nobody to root for. Hae-won is selfish and unlikeable and, even worse, lets her friend down when she's needed the most while Kim Bok-nam suffers too much for too long without trying to better her situation. And, of course, the abusers and those who allow the abuse to happen are vile. BUT, and I hasten to say this before complaints start flooding my email inbox, the depiction of someone so horribly victimised here is horribly and sadly realistic, I'm sure. Having endured hardship for so long, it becomes the norm. With such a controlling partner and nobody able to help her start afresh, Kim Bok-nam is resigned to her fate. She wants a better life for her young daughter but she thinks that it's too late for herself. It's quite heartbreaking to watch.

Bedevilled is a fantastic film to watch if you're either a horror fan who can handle a very slow burn on the way to a big finale or if you're a fan of pain-filled drama who can also handle a few more extreme moments. Fans of world cinema will be very pleased to see yet another great outing from South Korea.


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