The atmosphere of mounting dread is matched by just-right performances, design and camerawork.
This is a carefully structured film about grief and guilt, as well as horror. They don’t resolve every disturbing moment or confusing element: they leave some questions hauntingly unanswered. The film feels haunted by the relationship between Im and Moon, who cling to each other in the face of a hostile hostess, even though that may not be their best option. There’s more rank dread and inscrutable mystery in any one scene of this South Korean psychological thriller than in all the American horror films of the past 10 years. A creepy and atmospheric psychological thriller which keeps its audience guessing until the very end. It’s truly a masterpiece in the end.
Why Hollywood has been so busy in recent years remaking Asian horror movies.
Im Soo-jung as Bae Su-mi
Moon Geun-young as Bae Su-yeon
Yum Jung-ah as Heo Eun-joo
Kim Kap-soo as Bae Moo-hyeon
Lee Seung-bi as Mi-hee (Eun-joo’s sister in law)
Lee Dae-yeon as Su-mi’s doctor
Park Mi-hyun as Mrs Bae (Moo-hyeon’s first wife and Su-mi’s and Su-yeon’s mother)
Woo Ki-hong as Sun-kyu (Eun-joo’s brother)
A creepy and atmospheric psychological thriller.
A teenage girl, Su-mi, is being treated for shock and psychosis in a mental institution. She is released and returns home to her family’s secluded estate in the countryside with her father and younger sister Su-yeon, whom she is protective of. The sisters have a cold reunion with their stepmother, Eun-joo, who constantly requires medication. Eun-joo also has a strained relationship with her husband, both of them enduring a sexless marriage.
Su-mi has a nightmare of her late mother’s ghost. The next day, she finds family photos which reveal that Eun-joo was formerly an in-home nurse for her then-terminally ill mother. She discovers bruises on her sister’s arms and suspects Eun-joo is responsible. Su-mi confronts Eun-joo about the bruises but Eun-joo refuses to apologize for her actions. That night, their uncle and aunt arrive for dinner, and Eun-joo tells bizarre stories that bewilder them. The aunt suddenly suffers a violent seizure and suffocates. After recovering, she tells her husband that she saw the ghost of a dead girl beneath the kitchen sink during her seizure. Eun-joo tries to see what is beneath the sink, but the ghost girl violently grabs her arm.
Eun-joo’s relationship with her stepdaughters sours after she finds her pet bird mutilated and killed and her personal photographs defaced. As punishment, she locks Su-yeon in the closet. Su-mi releases her and tells her father about the abuse. Her father begs her to stop acting out and informs her that Su-yeon is dead. Su-mi refuses to believe it as she sees her sister sobbing uncontrollably.
The next morning, Eun-joo drags a bloodied sack through the house, whipping it. Su-mi believes that Su-yeon is inside the sack. Eun-joo and Su-mi get into a violent physical altercation. Su-mi’s father arrives to find an unconscious Su-mi.
It is ultimately revealed that Su-mi and her father were alone in the house the entire time. Su-mi had suffered from dissociative identity disorder, where she possessed two personalities: herself and Eun-joo. The “body” in the sack that Su-mi was whipping was actually a porcelain doll and she was also the one who killed the pet bird. Su-yeon was also revealed to be long dead; her presence was actually the result of Su-mi’s hallucinations.
The father and the real Eun-joo send Su-mi back to the mental institution. Eun-joo tries to reconcile with Su-mi, promising to visit her as often as she can, but Su-mi rebuffs her. That night, Eun-joo hears footsteps in Su-yeon’s old bedroom, revealing that the ghost actually exists. Su-yeon’s real ghost crawls out of the closet and kills Eun-joo. Meanwhile, Su-mi smiles, appearing to have finally found peace.
Flashbacks reveal the day that led Su-mi to be institutionalized. While her terminally ill mother was still alive, her father engaged in an adulterous affair with Eun-joo, when she was still their in-home nurse. This upsets the sisters and drives their mother to hang herself in the closet of Su-yeon’s bedroom. Su-yeon attempts to revive her but the closet collapses on top of her. Eun-joo sees Su-yeon thrashing and suffocating and at the last minute, decides to save Su-yeon. However, Su-mi arrives and criticises Eun-joo for interfering with her family. Angry at Su-mi’s criticisms, Eun-joo leaves Su-yeon to die and tells Su-mi that she’ll “regret this moment.” Su-mi leaves the house, unaware of both her sister and her mother’s fates.
Directed by Kim Joo-ho
Written by Kim Min-sung
Produced by Oh Jeong-hyun
Cinematography Lee Seong-jae
Edited by Steve M. Choi
Music by Kim Tae-seong
Distributed by Next Entertainment World
Release date 8 August 2012
Running time 121 minutes
Country South Korea