A woman’s most happy with a dick in her mouth!” says one of moo-do island’s charming residents to Hae-won (Ji Sung-Wan), a Seoul sister returning home to escape the city.
But instead of a rural idyll, she discovers a rotten patriarchy where the women, including her childhood friend Bok-Nam (Seo Yeong-Hie), live as slaves. “Even dogs and pigs learn if they get beaten, why not you?” spits Bok-Nam’s psychotic husband (Park Jeong-Hak) as he hits her. Oh, but she will.
Slow, disturbing and dream-like, Jang Cheol-So’s spellbinding debut is not so much a horror movie as an eerie art film that explodes, inexorably, into violence.
Although the island seethes with dark secrets – rape, child abuse, domestic trauma – the aim is to illuminate as well as disgust, so the story plays out in bright, meditative daylight. “I stared at the sun and it spoke to me,” says Bok-Nam, dazed, before she finally turns feral.
Though the film runs thick with allegory, and heady symbolism (feet, honey, swollen fruit) abounds, you don’t need deep knowledge of Korean social history to feel the anger bubbling underneath.
Hae-Won’s life in Seoul – all ruthless office politics and gang violence – has a grim, mechanical quality to it, and her options seem to be either being liberated and miserable or trapped and miserable.
Worst of all is the way the women collude in each other’s abuse, making this less a feminist call-to-arms than a reminder of how, if we all turn a blind eye, everything is lost.
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