Subtlety is a foreign concept to "Bedevilled", dealing more with superlative than finesse. Not to say that's entirely a shame - in fact, it's more strategic than anything else. The audience is manipulated upon entering the cinema, expecting a revenge thriller or typical horror and instead being emotionally thrashed by confronting horror and cruelty that doesn't at all follow the entertaining hack and slash disposable violence and cathartic resolution of the horror genre.
Our main character, Hae Won, is a morally obtuse city slicker whose pathos indirectly hurts those around her, whether it be refusing to help a woman being beaten or putting clerical procedure over a person's livelihood. That same lethargy deals its damage to her childhood friend, Kim Bok-Nam, when she visits the island of her upbringing.
Hae Won is a disenfranchised woman working in a man's world, developing a callous layer that makes her an unlikeable main character (not that that's a bad thing here). On a forced vacation from work, she takes a nostalgic stroll down a less inviting memory lane away from the hubbub of city life. What she finds is a caricature of tragedy that is the island of Moo-do.
Bok-Nam takes the reigns in "Bedevilled" as the real main character as she is physically and emotionally tormented by the incestuous village that condones brutal misogyny on both sides of the fence. She is raped by her husband's brother, cheated on by her abusive husband, subject to constant manual labour and degradation, all condoned by a ruthlessly backwards tribe of elderly women. Hae Won is thrust into the middle, though observes, hapless, from the sideline.
The antithesis to the typical Lifetime women's flic, Bok-Nam snaps under the unrelenting pressure of being abandoned in her shared hell and the film turns to slasher fodder. The superlative violence that ensues is shot with a brutality that will fulfil the pent up bloodlust of an emotionally manipulated audience, though is shot by someone seemingly unfamiliar with the thriller genre "Bedevilled" uncomfortably sits in.
Director Jang Cheol-soo debuts with "Bedevilled", after earlier earning his chops on the side of Kim Ki-duk on the set of "Samaria". The technical prowess he's picked up is evident, as is his ability to evoke a real response from the viewer, except for how one-dimensionally morose the characters all are. The exaggerated violence forces a response, though lacks the subtlety to be credible. What's left is a murder spree without the thrill of a thriller and without the cathartic release of a revenge picture.
But then again, every filmmaker tailors their film to tell a certain story or make a certain point, and Cheol-soo drives his home on the back of unrelenting cruelty backed by expert cinematography to present an aesthetically pleasing but morally unsettling tale. The violence the audience yearns for comes at a heavy toll, so much so that you question whether sitting through an hour of one-sided, unscrupulous cruelty is worth the release.
Korean film as a reflection of Korean society tends to paint a fairly patriarchal society with misogynistic undertones, and "Bedevilled" takes it to the enth degree. Hae Won's Seoul life is populated by crass and callous individuals while Moo-do island is absorbed by more of the same.
Just as those in "Bedevilled" passively abstain from helping those around them, so too do vicarious audiences of violent cinema who'll gladly accept some token abuse for some more token reparation in blood. The film makes it hard to be passive. If you go into this film expecting another revenge film or a bit of filmic horror, prepared to be mortified by how genuinely horrifying "Bedevilled" can be. It doesn't follow the genre, but makes a bolder statement in its defiance.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from YESASIA
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"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Bedevilled""
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