Put yourself in the mind of Michael Douglas' "D-Fens" character in Falling Down - a man finally pushed to the limit through ever growing, yet often mild irritants in the urban sprawl of LA. Hot, flustered, angry, betrayed, misunderstood. Got it?
Now man up and pull yourself together, because his provocation is really pretty trivial compared to the abhorrent hardships visited upon the downtrodden Bok-nam (Yeong-hie Seo) in Jang Cheol-so's Bedevilled.
Hae-won (Ji Sung-won) is a successful 30-something, working at a Bank in Seoul - she's busy, but ultimately lonely. When a work situation gets out of hand, she decides to take a break and visit an old friend still living on a remote island where they played together as children. Bok-nam is thrilled to see her childhood friend, after years of written pleas for her to visit. But Hae-won quickly discovers that the reality of Bok-nam and her daughter's existence on the island is nothing short of horrific. Physically and mentally tormented by her husband and the abusive matriarchs who worship the male islanders, she begs Hae-won to take her away to the mainland. Frustrated by an unreceptive Hae-won, Bok-nam takes matters into her own hands and in an ill-fated attempt to escape, her daughter is killed. This turns out to be the final straw for her...
Despite receiving some minor notoriety for its bloody climax, Bedevilled is a good deal more interesting than the rape revenge tag would imply. Whilst the narrative crux of the film may lie with Bok-nam's plight, Hae-won is a more fascinating character. Her early relationship with Bok-nam is glimpsed in flashback betraying her ultimately selfish drive for survival that's left her so alone and confused amidst the corporate side of Seoul. The dynamic between the two also pulls into question the mechanics of friendship and the pull between one's physical needs and the other's emotional inertia - a seemingly irreconcilable status that can only end in tragedy.
Inevitably the suffering meted out does become grating and after a while you can't help wishing they'd just move it on. We get the point. It's a patient build up with precious little action until the final scenes and it's certainly no slasher pic. Though the depiction of how morally empty Bok-nam's persecutors are goes some way toward justifying, or at least contextualising, her breakdown, there's no sense that we should be cheering her on. Far from sweet, revenge when it comes is sad and hollow.
Bedevilled is grim viewing throughout and though it's an inherently upsetting tale, in the end (and it really does feel like a long time coming) it doesn't quite pack the emotional wallop it should. Rather than rescue or help anyone, I wanted more to just put them out of their misery.
The quality is excellent with the beautiful, bleak landscape rendered clearly with plenty of detail. Only very dark shots have a hint of disruption to the picture, with some horizontal lines appearing. Sound is strong, rich and clear, with eerie silences beautifully silent as well.
Extras are basic with a behind the scenes featurette that won't set the world on fire, a trailer and TV spot. Nothing else to report there.
Bedevilled is out on UK Blu-ray and DVD from 28th February 2011 through Optimum Home Entertainment.