October is that time of year when I start spending a vast majority of my time watching grossly underwhelming horror films on a regular basis. There are always my go to films like Evil Dead, Halloween, American Werewolf in London, The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, 28 Days Later, Blair Witch Project, the list goes on but I generally save these for the last remaining days before Halloween.
I spend the rest of the month scouring Netflix or video stores for the obscure, cheesy, exploitative and downright terrible horror movies out there. Yes, I try to intersperse a classic tale or two and even some foreign horror films in to the mix. There’s just something about the chill in the air, the turning of the leaves and the smell of autumn that gets me going. Add a horror film and football to the mix and you have the perfect recipe for my favorite time of the year.
A Tale of Two Sisters is a film that I’ve heard murmurings about in the past. Prowling around Netflix the other night, I came across it and was pleased to see that it was available instantly. I turned off the lights, tucked myself in and prepared myself for what I hoped to be a great story. I was not disappointed.
A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Hongryeon) is a Korean Film written and directed by Jee-woon Kim and stars Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim and Geun-Young Moon. The film starts in a hospital where we meet one-half of the referenced Two Sisters but is a ghost story at heart with underlying themes of mental disturbance.
I will preface my review by saying that this film is not for the faint of heart. I kid you not, I experienced some chest pains at different points in the movie. I’d like to believe I’m a relatively healthy 27 year old guy that has no reason to be experiencing chest pains for any reason other than experiencing bone chilling terror. I may have even let out an audible squeak at one point. The movie is terrifying in a good old fashion horror film sort of way with its rubber band effect of build up and release. In fact, the movie excels at this suspense building in a way that no horror film has in a long time.
As can be expected, the music of Byung-woo Lee plays a huge role in the build-up, ranging from a low droning sound in times of grueling apprehension to cheerful flutes and violins, returning us to the safe and peaceful world and reminding us ever so soothingly, that everything is okay (no monsters under the bed…or cupboard…).
The movie becomes a tug of war with your senses as the scariest scenes play out in typical horror movie fashion where you know something’s going to happen…you keep waiting…and waiting…and it doesn’t happen. You exhale…you didn’t even realize you were holding your breath. You become angry with the director of the film for playing with…BAM IT HAPPENS!
The acting is terrific. You come to love the two sisters and their relationship with one another, which makes the somewhat predictable reveal (no spoilers here) towards the end that much harder to stomach. The film is technically sound as well with beautiful cinematography (possibly, the best I’ve seen in a horror film) from Mo-gae Lee. In an effort not to give anything away, I will say that the ending gets to be a bit jumbled with a lot of back and forth. It becomes difficult to keep up with what exactly is going on.
Finally, the thing that I think this film accomplished, other than being an immensely enjoyable and utterly terrifying film, is the fact that it allows you to forget that you’re watching a foreign film. There are very few things, if any, that seemed to be lost in translation. I’m not only referring to the dialogue but to the feel and production value of the world in which the story takes place. There wasn’t one particular thing that made the film stand out and make you say “oh yeah, this is happening in another country…” This may seem light a hoighty-toighty, American way of looking at it but I feel it’s an important element to any film’s success in attracting a large audience in a foreign market (which admittedly, A Tale of Two Sisters did not do). American films are no different in that they need to make it visually appealing and relevant to the masses, not just Americans.
Overall, this film far and away surpassed my expectations and probably even landed itself on my list of annual horror films to watch in October. Yes, it’s that good and I look forward to watching it again. I would definitely recommend it to any horror fan. Dust off that old blanky and get ready to squeal…and maybe consider a mouth piece for the teeth grinding that you’ll be doing.