By Quincy Cechini
Survival & Revenge: A Means to an End
An immediate thought when seeing the words horror/thriller/mystery, most think about or hear the sound of blood-curdling screams, the heightened feelings of suspense, and the eerie feeling that someone is watching you—the general dark nature of horror/thriller/mystery films. American classics like The Shining, The Exorcist, Slender Man, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all involve scenes with intense screams paired with zero sugar-coated footage that is raw, and up-close and personal. The Korean film, The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion (directed and produced by Park Hoon-Jung and Yeon Young-Sik) has similar characteristics to these notable American classics but doesn’t follow the stereotypical scream fest. It’s an intense, bloodthirsty rollercoaster ride of a film experience. When you think you’ve caught hold of the fast-paced plot, you’ve already fallen for the long list of red herrings…You’ll cover your eyes at first, but you’ll find yourself peaking to catch a glimpse of the character’s impending fate.
The 2018 debut South Korean film, The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion leaves an abundance of room for the imagination from the second the film starts. The opening credits play while images of the years past cruelty of tyranny, human experiments, witch hunts, and bleak content. It abruptly shifts to a woman walking towards the dead end of a hallway that is decorated with blood splatters. With the “treasure” at the end of the hall being lifeless bodies haphazardly covered with a tarp. Over the next few minutes, it is found out that these lifeless bodies were once children who were medical experiments for the sole purpose to gain power and to instill fear in those on the opposing team. The abilities of these children were getting to be uncontrollable and disposing of them was the only option. Except, not all of these genetically engineered killing machines were disposed of. Hey Siri, play “The One That Got Away” by Katy Perry.
The initial escape of 8-year-old Koo Ja-Yoon is the start of a 10-year identity crisis as she uncovers the “reality” of a normal life. She stumbled upon a farm of an elderly couple, Koo Sung-Hwan (played by Choi Jung Woo), and his wife (played by Oh Mi Hee), who took her in and raised her out of the goodness and love of their hearts—supposedly anyways. Once it seems that Ja-Yoon has settled into her role of a normal high school girl, her past comes to haunt her once she exposes herself on live TV; being a contestant for a talent show in Seoul, South Korea—the entertainment jackpot. Who knows, maybe she was seeking them out the entire time? Who falls into whose trap, I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Who do you think is the real predator?
While it is not outrightly stated that she is a witch, the characteristics and abilities of the main female lead screams supernatural. Just as Korean folk tales describe mutangs (witches), Ja-Yoon is extremely cunning and manipulative for her gain. This only becomes clear during the ending minutes of the film which naturally leaves room for a sequel (The Witch: Part 2. The Other One).
Given the title of the film, you’d think that there would be some sort of direct and obvious connection that Ja-Yoon is a witch. Even though it isn’t spelled out, the director makes sure to depict the realness of the sheer brutality and captures the palpable crunch of the action that comes with the use of supernatural abilities and effects. These supernatural abilities of the brain-altered did not look to be choppy or cheap, but hyperrealistic and fake reality. There have been other films that have tried to capture these effects and failed miserably. Failing what seemed to be an addictive plot all because the effects were lacking. If the editing and effects are not on an equal bar of excellence with the plot, the movie probably will be subpar.
The same thing goes for theme matching. If the plot is dark, vengeful, and involves various levels of anxiety and nerve-wracking tension, but the editing and lightning suggest sunshine and rainbows, you will have a very conflicting and likely unsuccessful film outcome. The pairing of dark and gray tones in every corner of the film is what will make the film shine and that is exactly what Park Hoon-Jung and Yeon Young-Sik accomplished. Most of the clothes of the lead and supporting actors illustrated dark tones, gray foggy skies, eerie buildings, deep-colored vehicles, and looming shadows; down to the pitch-black hair of the main leads. It was very crystal clear that the theme was to have a dim and eerie effect.
Sound effects and instrumental music also play a large role in holding the audience’s attention. It creates the ability to have the power to manipulate the emotions or feelings the audience will have towards specific scenes. Without fail, the instrumental music that was played had an eerie effect. Much like the sounds you would hear in traditional horror/thriller/mystery films.
Most would probably want to compare this film to the award-winning film Parasite, directed and produced by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, for more than one reason (being a Korean film, horror/mystery/thriller, the flip of the switch plot twists). But I dare to say these two films don’t have the same end goal. There are some similarities, like the dark-themed nature and the obvious content of the films, but the end game of each film is very different. While both seem to have similar imposter roles, in the end, Parasite’s “end game” was fueled by greed more than anything. Whereas in The Witch: The Subversive, it became blatantly obvious that Koo Ja-Yoon’s “end game” was survival.
As people say, time flies when you are having fun. The 2-hour film went by in a flash, and before you know it, the entire plot is revealed before you and leaves you confused or asking questions. Despite my distaste for the abundance of gore in the film, which is entirely my fault, the film was superb in its editing and effects; which in turn created the cliché phrase of “it had me at the edge of my seat”. With strategic placings of the red herrings in the film, you never knew what was going to happen. Chances are, if you thought you were catching on, think again.