Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Living Death (2009)

aka Possessed

Original title: 불신지옥

One exhausted evening, college student Hee-jin (Nam Sang-mi) gets a call from her mother (Kim Bo-yun) reporting her sister So-jin (Shim Eun-kyung) has disappeared. Hee-jin returns home at once. To her shock, she finds her mother hasn’t called the police about the disappearance yet; dear mother, in the grip of full-on religious mania for what we will later learn quite some time now, really rather wants to pray the kid back.

Of course, once Hee-jin calls the police, she isn’t exactly impressed by the detective she’s speaking with, Tae-hwan (Ryu Seung-ryong). He’s basically shrugging things off by explaining the 14 year-old’s disappearance with her “simply” having run away. Therefore, there’s supposed to be no reason for concern or for the policeman doing his job. However, Tae-hwan will change his tune once a series of strange and disturbing events begin to develop, like a number of suicides in rather quick succession, all taking place in the apartment house Hee-jin’s mother and sister live in. The first woman who kills herself apologizes to So-jin for something in her suicide note, though neither mother nor daughter seem to know what her connection to Hee-jin was apart from having babysat her sometimes. Tae-hwan’s and Hee-jin’s – sometimes independent, sometimes not – investigations turn up increasingly disturbing connections between these people and So-jin.

What these connections in Lee Yong-joo-I’s Living Death exactly are, I’m not going to disclose; I am only going to say that this is one of those horror films where most people getting supernaturally killed off pretty much get what they asked for. Yet, it isn’t the sort of straightforward supernatural tale of vengeance one might expect, for Lee structures the story and its telling very much like a traditional mystery interspersing the investigative sequences with highly effective and often properly disturbing scenes of horror of ever increasing intensity. So this is less a tale of supernatural revenge than that of a young woman and a cop with problems trying to figure out the truth through proper investigations, with interviews and research revealing ever more of the truth of what has been going on around So-jin.

Or really, half revealing that truth, for as many a South Korean horror film, Living Death keeps certain things ambiguous, ending on a note that can be easily read in a couple of very different ways. Which is only right and proper for a film whose characters have very different interpretations on the same set of occurrences and facts, depending on their personal connection to things as well as their religious and spiritual outlook.

Thematically, the film is concerned with the love of family and the sometimes disturbing forms it can take, the horrors of religious world views, the willingness of people to egotistically use others, guilt, and the way fact is always filtered through any given person’s view of the world. It’s pretty heady stuff, at least on paper. In Lee’s hands, however, all these ideas and perspectives come together to form a highly coherent, intelligent film that asks questions and expects its audience to come up with their own answers. It’s also a film that happens to be a fascinating tale of mystery as well as a character based piece of horror that finds its most terrible moments not in the supernatural (though it is certainly no slouch in that regard) but in the human reaction to it.

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