Wednesday, February 6, 2013

In short: Two Moons (2012)

Original title: Doo Gae-eui Dal

So-hee (Park Han-byeol), Seok-ho (Kim Ji-seok-I) and In-jeong (Park Jin-joo) wake up in the proverbial dark house in the dark woods without any memory of how they got there or why they might be there. Something's not right at all with the house: there are strange noises, the feet of a floating woman hanging in the background, an atmosphere of dread hanging over the place. The three just can't shake the feeling they're not alone. After some uncomfortable and confused time spent in the house, Seok-ho and In-jeong decide to try their luck walking through the woods (at night, in the dark), only to walk around in increasingly panicked circles, with a side order of floating woman ghost.

The situation doesn't improve when they make their way back to the house. So-hee seems weirdly calm about the whole supernaturally threatening situation. Sure, she says she's a horror writer and part-time sensitive, but is that really all she knows about what's going on? And while I'm asking questions, what's with the two moons hanging in the sky?

I've fallen a bit out of love with South Korean horror in the last few years. Many of the South Korean genre films I've seen that were made during the last two or three years shared high ambitions, high technical competence, and an obsession with twists but seldom managed to actually use their ambitions wisely or come together as actual movies.

I'm happy to report that Two Moons is a much more effective film. Somewhat ironically, it achieves this state of grace by ramping down its ambitions concerning thematic resonance, deeper thought, or anything else of this sort, and really just seems to want to be one thing - a scary movie that'll make an audience jump, start, and perhaps shiver for ninety minutes or so. For once, this comparative lack of ambition works in a movie's favour. Director Kim Dong-bin (whose only other directorial credit lies with the disappointing Red Eye) concentrates on all classic scare tactics apart from the jump scare (no spring-loaded cats for you, audience!), turning a series of typical and not quite so typical horror sequences into a horror film that may not possess much depth but sure as hell is fun to watch. I'm particularly fond of Kim's use of spooky things happening in the background, a technique that can get annoying fast when overused or used by someone who doesn't realize what's actually scary about it (hint: scenes like these aren't about showing the audience something particularly scary but about reminding it of the feeling of someone standing behind them when nobody should be there) yet works wonders in the right hands. The director also shows a fine eye for the use of different types of light to help change the mood of scenes, or even to pace them; it's also nice to watch a film that isn't just yellow.

Two Moons' plot is based on several twists - it's still a South Korean horror film after all - with a basic set-up that is very silly once one thinks about it but it's so well paced the annoyance twist-heavy plots usually produce in me didn't set in. Not that I found the film's twists particularly surprising (this isn't my first movie about amnesiacs waking up in an old dark house, after all). Rather, their execution didn't necessarily need me to be surprised by them to keep them working; I, too, do appreciate a twist-y horror film confident enough to keep its twists inside the rules it establishes.

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