Sunday, June 30, 2019

Suddenly in the Dark (1981)

The horror genre has been booming in South Korea for the last couple of decades, but it's been around for longer than that. A lot of these movies seem to be overlooked in some circles, but have recently begun to gain an insurgence in coverage and popularity. Such is the case with 1981's Suddenly in the Dark.

Housewife Seon-hee welcomes her husband back home from another expedition collecting rare butterfly specimens, but this time he brought back something else-A new housemaid, a young country girl named Mi-ok. Seon-hee likes the girl well enough at first, but soon finds her off-putting, especially when she sees that Mi-ok owns a mysterious spirit doll that's been haunting Seon-hee. She gradually begins to grown more paranoid and unstable, convinced that her husband is having an affair with the new maid, and that Mi-ok is an evil spirit planning to kill Seon-Hee's family...

There's lot to dissect in Suddenly in the Dark, with its themes of middle-aged womanhood, sexist skepticism, as well as some for the acceptance or lack thereof of supernatural forces in a modern-day Korea. There's even some possible lesbian subtext here too.

The film can be read many different ways, and the characters have multiple layers to them. Is Mi-ok just an innocent girl, or is she really guided by a malevolent force and actively toying with this family? Or is she really magical, but innocent of what a delusional Seon-hee thinks of her? Is Seon-hee really experiencing genuine supernatural visitations, or maybe just imagining everything? If she is, is her husband still being untrue, regardless of whether there's any supernatural goings-on influencing his behaviour, or is he still a caring (if unattentive) spouse? One also has to wonder if Seon-hee's friend is also being affected by the sinister events, or is she really is so uncaring that she'll listen to her friend's crazed outpourings without even looking up from doing her nails.

The ending is particularly interesting. Its haunting and strange imagery leaves you with just enough to be satisfied, while also leaving you with plenty of thoughts to make your own conclusions about what's happened, and what will happen now.

The direction is Suddenly in the Dark is surreal, utilising many strange styles such as a kaleidoscope vision, glass bottle vision,  overlays, blurriness, amplified sound, and the skillful use of deep vibrant colours.  The use of these is very effective, and greatly lend an atmosphere of unease and dread to the proceedings.

The score is likewise really good, with many different and disparate tracks, from traditional spooky ones, to more electronic synth-heavy tunes that sound like a computer going mad. One bit of scoring during the supermarket scene is very interesting in that it coincidentally sounds a bit like the Queen melody that plays during the execution scene in Flash Gordon!

The acting here is very good all round, with strong performances from Kim Young-ae as Seon-Hee, Lee Ki-seon as Mi-ok. The latter gets across both the unassuming innocence and the hidden malevolence of her character well, while Kim shoulders the brunt of not only the screentime, but the movie's themes too, and she really sells them like a pro.

The film is primarily set in the household of a regular well-to-do Korean family, which is very pretty! This is also effective in making the horror scarier, because these events are happening in a regular home, in broad daylight even! Suddenly in the Dark is a great example of daylight horror, able to fill you with a sense of dread even with a clear blue sky and bright green grass.

One random scene I found odd was when a bath has been drawn, and it's a disconcerting shade of yellow! Since it's described as clean and lovely, I assume there must be something in it I'm unfamiliar with to make it that colour, like saffron, or some kind of aromatic thingie?

Suddenly in the Dark is a really good example of classic South Korean horror, and its recent blu-ray release by Mondo Macabro is definitely worth picking up, with some neat special features included too.

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