Udine 2015 Review: THE WICKED, An Effectively Thrilling Exercise In Low-Budget Filmmaking
Although at first it feels like an office-set social drama that focuses on issues such as mobbing and unhealthy competition among co-workers, as the story progresses The Wicked begins to reveal layers of evil that reach to a heart of darkness worthy of Dario Argento and John Carpenter.
The original Korean title, which literally translates as "The Witch", would perhaps make more sense, given how strongly the smartly written film implies that the pretty Shin Se-yeong (Park) might actually be a malicious hag who possesses that special ability to make people "disappear". Then again, it also suggests that her strange behavior and hatred towards other people, as well as her distressing obsession with love, could have been caused by family-related problems. Up until the final gut-wrenching revelation, and a climax that's reminiscent of Miike's Audition, Shin's true identity is intriguingly left open to interpretations.
Shin's past would have probably remained undiscovered if not for her seonbae Han Yi-seon (Na Su-yun) and a seemingly harmless background check that initiates a string of flashbacks, exposing some pretty disturbing facts from the main character's traumatic past. Emphasized by a tactfully crafted episodic structure, the non-linear narrative becomes one of the film's strongest assets, as it not only encourages the viewer to ponder the picture's few ambiguous questions, but also helps to locate the film somewhere between nightmares and reality -- even though there's really nothing supernatural about the whole affair.
Jumping from one extreme to the other in an unobtrusive and well-considered way Park imbues her character with a wide spectrum of emotions, hinting at hidden depths of Shin's personality while never overplaying her unpredictable nature. It takes a special set of skills to make such a multi-layered performance believable, and Park certainly knows what she has to do to win over the audience.
What makes it an even more remarkable achievement is that the Park has never played the lead in any film before -- although some might remember her from Bae Chang-ho's 2009 omnibus drama The Script. With the help of Yoo's steady and skillful directorial hand Park creates a horror villain that's sure to find its place in the canon.
Through lighting, here a well-balanced mixture of dark shadows and pools of light, combined with creative camera angles and piercing sounds that creep into frames at the most unexpected moments, Yoo creates a perfectly distressing and uniquely tense atmosphere of ever-present danger and sheer terror.
A rare occurrence for modern Korean cinema, The Wicked thoroughly captures the attention without resorting to gratuitous violence or sensationalism. To up-and-coming filmmakers it should serve as a perfect example that original storyline ideas are more important than expensive visual effects.