Spider Forest (DVD)

Spider ForestStarring Kam Woo-seong, Kang Kyeong-heon, Jang Hyeong-seong

Directed by Song Il-gon

Distributed by Tartan Video USA

Spider Forest coulda, woulda, shoulda been a contender. This effort from South Korean writer/director Song Il-Gon has all the right elements for compelling hybrid horror, but like so many other like-minded films, it ultimately loses itself in the balancing act.

The set-up is pretty captivating: Suffering a traumatic head wound, Kang Min awakes outside a cabin in the woods at the scene of a double-murder. After undergoing intense brain surgery, he finds himself both an amnesiac and the prime suspect in the police investigation. From his hospital bed Min tries to piece together his scattered memories and dreams to find out what really happened on the night in question.

What we’re left with is a failed attempt at spinning a surreal mystery. Spider Forest wants to be many things – a whodunit with elements of drama, horror, and fantasy – but it gets over-ambitious and slowly crumbles over its bloated two-hour running time. Il-Gon tries desperately to put us in the head of his protagonist by weaving both past and present events with dream logic, but it all ends up being pretty damned confusing (and not in a crafty, art-house way). Although the film plays a deliberate game with time lines, nothing ever seems to flow together, and the whole story irritates more often than it intrigues.

There’s some involving character drama, a few tense scenes, and an interesting mythology behind the forest itself; but all these great moments make the film’s problems seem even more aggravating. Factor in a rushed, half-baked ending and Spider Forest ends up feeling like the Korean equivalent of Brad Anderson’s recent misfire, The Machinist.

Like the film, the DVD presentation is a mixed bag. The video transfer is unspectacular, but the 5.1 audio mix sounds amazing. There’s a fun “making-of” documentary that shows the cast and crew goofing around on set, but the cast interviews and deleted scenes feel superfluous, and none of these extras adds any real insight into the film. Still, considering most foreign releases, Tartan should be commended for making the effort to dig up supplement material.

It’s really a shame. In the hands of a Lynch or a Cronenberg, Spider Forest would’ve undoubtedly made for a compelling piece of cinema. As is, it’s just a (pardon the pun) tangled web, a series of cool ideas in search of a movie.

Special Features
Making-of featurette
Interviews with the director and cast
Deleted scenes
Photo gallery
Original theatrical trailers
Tartan Asia Extreme trailers

2 ½ out of 5

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Steve Barton

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