Janghwa, Hongryeon (2003)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Soo-mi (Su-jeong Lim) and See-yeon (Geun-Young Moon) were released from hospitalization after the death of their mother. Once the sisters entered their home, they were welcomed by their stepmother, Eun-joo (Jung-ah Yum), the nurse who took care of their formerly depressed mom. The two sisters were not at all happy with their father’s (Kap-su Kim) decision to marry so quickly. But upon the girls’ arrival, strange things started to occur around the house especially at night when everyone was asleep. “Janghwa, Hongryeon,” also known as “A Tale of Two Sisters,” written and directed by Jee-woon Kim, was a wonderful blend of the smart supernatural horror and edgy psychological thriller. Right away, we could feel that something was not quite right although it wasn’t easy to pinpoint exactly what was off. It could be the house, the way the floorboards creaked when everyone was supposed to be in bed. It could be Eun-joo, the way she came off as a bit unhinged. In some scenes, she looked pristine, equipped with a perfect posture while exuding elegance as she moved from one point to another. In some scenes, she looked like a complete mess, like someone who hadn’t gotten out of bed for several days. Or it could be the sisters, the way they stuck so close together and kept secrets even from their father. There was a possibility that they weren’t yet ready to be released from the hospital. The scenes involving the ghosts were masterfully done. When one of the characters investigated something curious under the sink, notice that the camera explored every possible angle using the character’s body as a reference point without feeling choppy. When she looked to her left, we could see what was behind her; when she looked down, we focused on her angular shoulders, just in case something would appear sneakily from there. The camera would suddenly cut to another angle so we had a chance to see what she saw. The scene unfolded very slowly which was necessary to really build a sense of unease. When a jump-out-of-your-seat moment inevitably arrived, the writer-director’s confidence was noticeable. Instead of cutting to a new scene, it continued to build until the next shock. But it wasn’t over just yet. I was impressed because of the way it dared to take risks. Safe is moving onto the next scene, due to fear of diminishing returns, after one good scare. I felt that the filmmakers wanted to reward its audiences by giving us something memorable, not cheap scares we just forget a couple of minutes after the movie ended. Furthermore, we cared for the characters, as mysterious as they were, because we had an idea of their backstory. When the backstory was challenged by inserting missing pieces of the puzzle and eventually allowed us to see the big picture, the twists and turns felt organic rather than gimmicky. When something was revealed, although initially horrific, there was an atmosphere of sadness about it, too. “A Tale of Two Sisters,” supported by strong acting, was imaginative, chilling, and touching seemingly without effort. Western filmmakers can learn a thing or two from the way the story was allowed to unspool elegantly.
Uninvited, The (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
“The Uninvited,” directed by Charles Guard and Thomas Guard, is a remake of a Korean film “A Tale of Two Sisters.” I have not seen the latter but I was actually surprised with how this one turned out because the trailers looked unconvincing to say it lightly. This picture is about a girl (Emily Browning) who is recently released from a mental hospital. When she returns home, she finds out that her father (David Strathairn) is in a relationship with the very same nurse (Elizabeth Banks) who took care of her mother when she was still alive. After dreaming about her mother’s angry ghost proclaiming that the nurse murdered her, the main character teams up with her spunky sister (Arielle Kebbel) and the two gather up evidence to get the nurse out of their lives. Since the movie is about a girl who has been recently released from a mental hospital, I decided to view this film from a psychological point of view. Right away, I knew something was a bit off with some of the characters because they exhibited paranoia, delusions and even psychosis with memory relapses. Yes, the premise of the film involved a ghost story/murderer backdrop but I thought that all of it was ultimately justified considering the main character’s state of mind. To me, this is not really a horror film as most people would say. It’s more of a psychological thriller because the way the story unfolded is really from the main character’s perspective. It was able to utilize the whole evil stepmother concept to add to the ever-growing conflict in the house (and stress that comes with it). The stresses then triggers something explainable (to an extent) which happened in the final act. This horror remake is far from perfect but it was interesting enough to keep my attention to figure out what was really happening underneath the supernatural facade. Having said that, I can also understand why a person who sees this film from a purely horror genre perspective may be frustrated with it. I say if one is remotely interested in watching it for whatever reason, then by all means do so. But I must give a warning that “The Uninvited” offers nothing new.