Possessed (2009)



 Reviewed by Pierre-Wolf

Starring Shim Eun-kyung, Young-nam Jang, Bo-yeon Kim, Chang-jik Lee

Directed by Lee Yong-joo


Despite its story involving the demonic possession of a pre-teen girl, and its urban setting where religious faith has given way to more contemporary values, don’t be fooled into thinking that Possessed is a mere Exorcist clone, done South Korean style. The possession angle is just a springboard from which director Lee Yong-joo launches an all-out assault on the senses that mixes the most unsettling moments of the David Lynch oeuvre with the restrained but effective gross-out shenanigans of the William Friedkin classic.

The plot revolves around over-achieving college student Hee-jin (the gifted Nam Sang-mi), who receives a mysterious late night phone call from her little sister So-jin (Shim Eun-gyeong), asking her if she’s okay. The drowsy Hee-jin thinks little of the urgency in her sister’s voice until the next morning, when their devoutly religious mother (Bo-yeon Kim) calls to inform her that So-jin has gone missing. Hee-jin returns to the family home, in a cramped apartment complex (on the 13th floor, natch), and begins her own investigation into the disappearance of her baby sister. When she realizes that a recent rash of suicides in the apartment building is linked to So-jin’s disappearance, she joins forces with a police detective, Tae-hwan (Ryu Seung-ryong), who is called in to clean up the mess (make that messes). Both will find themselves questioning their lack of faith in the supernatural, as evidence mounts of otherworldly powers at play.

Raise a bloody glass to first time writer-director Lee Yong-joo for crafting such an elegant and visually arresting horror movie. Many of the film’s creepiest sequences are staged in broad daylight (an eerie scene in a playground, involving a lost human tooth and an ostrich, comes immediately to mind). The filmmaker also wrings the most out of his central location, an urban apartment complex, which is at once as everyday and as terrifying as one can imagine (dead bodies tend to appear in the unlikeliest of places). The effective Ryu Seung-ryong is a force of understated power as the bewildered detective, who is forced to pursue the case even when similarities arise between the missing So-jin and his own daughter, slowly dying of an unnamed disease in a nearby hospital. Nam Sang-mi is equally compelling as the driven Hee-jin, on a quest to discover the truth about her sister, no matter how potentially shattering it might be.

Where Possessed stumbles is in its over-reliance on flashbacks to tell the story of what happened in the days leading up to So-jin’s disappearance. There isn’t a supporting player in sight who doesn’t have something to add to the mystery, which made following the plot confusing at times. In one instance halfway through the film, a neighbour leads the overworked detective (and the audience) down a ten-minute tunnel of convoluted revelations that threatened to compromise my involvement in the film. The increasingly disparate points of view that make up the second act mean that we lose sight of our main character, Hee-jin, for far too long and far too often. And, although effective on a surface level, and admittedly unpredictable (at least for me), the ultimate revelation is somewhat underdeveloped and chock full of dialogue – again, that nasty exposition rears its head. But, again, kudos to the filmmakers for sowing clues as to the nature of So-jin’s true fate throughout the movie.

Complaints aside, Possessed works extremely well as an atmospheric and effective tale of the supernatural, and serves as yet another example for our home grown horror films to follow (or, sadly, to remake).

3 1/2 out of 5

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