NYAFF 2011: BEDEVILLED Review
You know the saying, "A nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there?" Well, Moo-do Island isn't even a nice place to visit. With a population of roughly nine- including a pair of abusive brothers and a gaggle of callous old women- the percentage of horrible things that happen there is astronomically high. So why the hell would someone who used to live there want to go back for a vacation? I think somebody needs a better travel agent.
That somebody is Hae-won, a Seoul-less business woman with a strong aversion to getting involved in other people's problems. She's a firm believer in the MP/YP separation and isn't afraid to show it. Within the first five minutes of the film alone, she rejects an old woman's loan application and refuses to identify the suspect in a vicious assault. To be fair- she isn't very likable.
She also isn't afraid to slap a bitch. But when she takes her anger out on the wrong co-worker, her boss brings down the hammer and imposes a forced sabbatical. With nothing better to do, she finally responds to the pleas of her childhood friend, Bok-nam, and makes a pilgrimage to Moo-do. Turns out, the Island and its people are just as horrible as she (failed to) remember.
Bedevilled is being billed as a revenge flick, but it isn't your typical "rah rah, sis boom ba" revenge flick. When justice is finally meted out, it is sad and unfulfilling. The revenger here isn't even the main character- she's just a tool to facilitate Hae-won's inevitable arc. To this end, poor Bok-nam goes from victim to cold-blooded killer as Bedevilled takes a strange turn and morphs into a slasher film in its final moments. This ultimately leads to Hae-won's moment of redemption, but at the price of the more interesting character's humanity.
Because Bok-nam is who the film is really about. Actress Seo Young-Hee has won multiple awards for her portrayal of the icy Hae-won, but I fail to see the appeal of her performance. She just isn't given that much to do. Her character is conveniently unaccounted for or sleeping during long, important stretches of the film. And when she is present, she is ineffectual to the point of frustration. Seriously, how many awful things do you have to witness- perpetrated against a friend, no less- before you spring into action? An unlimited amount, apparently. It's only when her friend snaps and goes on a killing spree that Hae-won gets her ass in gear, and even then, it's only to save her own skin.
Which brings us to the epilogue. In a scene telegraphed all the way at the beginning of the film, Hae-won goes back to the police station to identify the attacker from the opening. Because she's changed, get it? She's learned her lesson. It's a nice sentiment, but for me, it was too obvious and too late. Maybe if she hadn't completely abandoned Bok-nam, if she had been just a little bit proactive, it wouldn't have felt so hollow and this would have been a better film.
Still, you have to admire what the director was going for. First time helmer Jan Cheol-su, who previously AD'ed for Kim Ki-duk, has given us a film that shares the bleakness of that director's early work. But despite doling out some well-deserved retribution, Bedevilled provides little in the way of catharsis. It is an anti-revenge film and is not meant to sate the blood lust of the audience. And let's be clear, that is one of the film's strengths. Unfortunately, the whole enterprise is undermined by an exasperatingly complacent lead and a tacked on horror movie ending. Maybe a second viewing would serve to change my opinion, but unlike some people, I don't think I'll be going back to Moo-do Island any time soon.
Bedevilled screens on Wenesday, July 6th and Sunday, July 10th at the Walter Reade Theater. Tickets and info HERE.