South Korean cinema took the world by storm a few years ago. Films like Oldboy, Mother, Memories of Murder and The Host changed a lot of peoples perceptions of the country. After a long time lurking in the shadow of Japanese and Hong Kong cinema, a new wave of Korean directors showed that they could stand toe to toe with the best the world had to offer, giving us films that were gripping, shockingly violent and darkly funny, often in the space of one scene.
Thus, I had high hopes for Suddenly In The Dark (or the grammatically suspect ‘Suddenly in Dark Night’, as the subtitles would have you believe), a South Korean horror film from 1981.
I feel I have been misled.
The problem is, it’s not a horror film. Well, not for the first 80 minutes.
I’m getting ahead of myself as usual. Let’s go back to the start.
A butterfly collector, who treats his wife like garbage, brings home a young girl to his wife to be their housekeeper. The girl carries a strange doll with her at all times. How strange you ask?
It looks like a witch that carries a secret art.
I don’t know what that means, but I’m sure you’ll agree it sounds odd.
Turns out the girl is the daughter of a shaman, who recently died in a fire, and the doll is her protector. The butterfly collector’s wife does the decent thing, and puts the girl up in a room with no bed.
Wow, thanks. Don’t worry about the bed, I’ll just sleep on the damn floor.
So far so good. It’s a nice set up to some hopefully creepy goings on.
Don’t get too excited.
From here on in, it turns into a pretty rote psychosexual drama, with the wife suspecting her husband of sleeping with the girl. She spirals into depression, leading to a memorable encounter with a supermarket checkout girl. As someone who has worked in retail, here are two things you should probably never say to a customer.
For gods sake, stop talking woman!
So are they sleeping together? That question takes up the next hour or so of the movie. There’s some pretty great imagery whenever the wife thinks she sees something suspicious, including this shot that looks like it was filmed through the bottom of a pint glass.
And then there’s some cool 80s superimposition effects.
But by this point the film is dragging. There’s a potentially interesting subplot that gets dropped almost as soon as its brought up, regarding the wife’s possible sexual attraction to the shamanic girl.
But it goes nowhere.
Eventually, we reach the last 20 minutes, and suddenly (in the dark?) the film turns into the insane psychedelic freakout you’ve been hoping for all along. Killer dolls, revenge from beyond the grave and nightmare imagery collide in a kaleidoscope of Argento-esque lighting and burbling synth music.
It’s good. To say it’s worth the wait is unfair to the movie. It’s perfectly watchable and has some good moments. It just needed to balance the disparate elements out a bit more evenly.
If I could travel back in time, I would say the following –
‘Don’t worry, South Korea. You guys are gonna get a whole lot better at this.’
And they did.
OVERALL: 3 paws out of 5