By Chris Kavan - 09/17/11 at 12:05 PM CT
I’m a big fan of atmospheric horror – sure, I also like zombies and blood and gore, but sometimes I need something that works on a deeper level. A Tale of Two Sisters is a Korean film that really digs in psychologically. It has some intense moments that will make you jump, but overall, it has that creeping sense of dread that permeates the entire film.
**I won’t spoil the film this time, but certain plot points are below**
The story for the film is based on a Korean folk tale, but don’t feel like you need any background to get enjoyment out of it. The cast is kept to a minimum – two sisters, a father and step-mother, with a dinner introducing an uncle and his wife, but for the most part it’s a four-person show. This is good, because the casting is spot on.
The characters all seem a little “off” if you will, but when the plot is fully explored, everything makes perfect sense. You have the father who seems distant and detached, the step-mother who goes from overly-cheerful to frighteningly cruel and the inseparable sisters who support each other. Yet there is one more character that is just as important but is often overlooked: the house.
The setting for the film is just as important as the actors, and whoever scouted the location deserves a bonus. Every creak, footstep, door slam echoes and each dark hallway and room seems to have its own personality. You’ll also notice the color red popping up from beginning to end – even the characters names - Su-mi and Su-yeon – translate to Rose and Lotus. There is plenty of symbolism to sift through, if you’re into that kind of thing.
The story seems straight-forward at first, and it starts off a bit slow, but as things continue to build and develop, it grabs you and doesn’t let go leading to a twist even M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of. It’s a movie that begs to be re-watched just to you gain a new perspective knowing the outcome. It really gives the movie a whole other feel that second go-round.
Plus, the movie isn’t contest just to throw one curve ball at you, it gives you a few to contend with. However, it’s not a stretch to believe it and even with all the twists, the movie makes sense but I still do recommend a second viewing.
All the scares don’t just come from a sense of foreboding. You also get a glimpse of the classic “long-haired creepy female” that seems to crop up in every Asian horror film. She is used to great effect, however. There are a few of these “jump” moments during the film – not enough that they seem cliché, but just the right amount to keep you on your toes. I especially like the scene following the dinner – one of the most edge-of-your seat moments in the film.
I also have to hand it to whoever scored the film – the music, like the house, becomes an integral character. The wrong score can ruin an otherwise great film, but in this case they get it right and it only enhances that feeling of dread.
One thing I must mention, and I can’t stress this strongly enough, DO NOT watch the American remake The Uninvited – not first anyway. While they keep the story pretty much intact, they throw in too many characters and it doesn’t have near the atmosphere of this original. Feel free to compare the two but please, watch the original first. If you have watched this version already, do yourself a favor and go back to this version.
This would be a great selection for someone who wants a thinking-man’s horror film. It’s almost a mystery/horror – and one I have no problem recommending. Yes, it’s subtitled, but bite the bullet and give it a shot. I promise you won’t be disappointed.