FEARNET Movie Review: 'Bedevilled'


There's no shortage of horror films, psychological thrillers, and deep, dark character studies that delve into the darkest parts of the "spurned woman" story, and while many are simplistic rape/revenge stories of some kind, several are quite fascinating and morbidly insightful. (Films like Grace, May, Teeth, and Inside, for example.) The ferocious new import from Korea entitled Bedevilled most assuredly falls into the latter category. While it does deal with horrific abuse of women -- and while virtually all of the male characters are invariably scum -- Bedevilled is less interested in the formative abuse than it is in the resulting fury. In other words, a woman can only be pushed so far, and if you push the wrong buttons, you'll bring down the wrath of unholy hell.

The story begins in familiar territory: a brusque and unpleasant professional woman who works in a Seoul bank decides to visit her childhood home -- a tiny island -- after screwing up big-time at work. Unfortunately nobody is happy to see the plainly uncomfortable Hae-won, aside from her childhood friend Kim Bok-nam. Even more unfortunately, Kim Bok-nam is dealing with a harrowingly abusive husband and a gang of miserable old ladies who treat her like a slave. An ineffectual outsider and mute witness to the rampant violence, Hae-won learns (a bit too late) that a little "civilization" could do these backwoods islanders some good. A tragic accident leads to a shocking display of violence, and poor Kim Bok-nam loses touch with reality ... and in very gory fashion.
First-time director Chul-soo Jang does an admirable job of pulling some palpable tension out of the film's first half; the third act serves as a welcome display of shocks and violence, and throughout the whole of the film there's an oddly effective air of melancholy. That the two main characters were once childhood friends, and are now reunited in the face of brutality and tragedy, gives Bedevilled a bit more meat on its bones than your typical revenge thriller. On a not-very-deep subtextual level we're looking at a film (and filmmakers) that are clearly trying to make a point about how women are frequently undervalued and abused -- even by other women -- and how a person, or an entire gender, can only be mistreated for so long before they becomes a snarling ball of primal rage.
Bedevilled is crafty in that it starts out focused on Hae-won, but she's barely the main character in her own story. Her character remains a passive witness for much of the film, and by the time the semi-protagonist starts to play a key role in the shocking demoralization of her childhood friend, it's too late. For all its casual cruelty and frequent bloodletting, Bedevilled is actually a rather heartbreaking tale about loyalty, empathy, and our innate need for a little bit of simple kindness from another human being. That a first-time director is behind such a multi-faceted, unflinching, and fascinating horror film is a good reason to take note of Bedevilled. One hopes that Chul-soo Jang has a few more nasty yet emotionally resonant tricks up his sleeve.