Review: I Saw the Devil (2010, Magnet Releasing)




Category: Crime/Noir, Thriller
Directed by:
Kim Ji-woon

Written by: Park Hoon-jung
Starring: Choi Min-sik, Lee Byung-hun
Music: Mowg
Cinematography: Lee Mo-gae

I Saw the Devil is a violent revenge film from prominent South Korean film director Kim Jee-woon. The story follows NIS agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun, Joint Security Area) who goes on a mission to avenge the rape and murder of his wife at the hands of serial killer Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik, Oldboy), becoming just as violent and dispassionate as the man he hunts down. Despite how grisly and gory the film is, it shows through Soo-hyun’s actions that violence only breeds violence.

In the beginning Soo-hyun seems like a nice enough guy, looking forward to a future with his wife, Joo-yun. Once he becomes embroiled in his quest of revenge he quickly becomes a cold, removed psychopath focused only on making Kyung-chul suffer, not thinking of how his actions effect anyone else. I feel like you actually get more of an emotionally performance from Min-sik, although his character, who is a serial killer/rapist, is disgusting enough to where there’s no sympathy felt. Once Soo-hyun discovers who killed his wife, he repeatedly tortures Kyung-chul before letting him go. Tracking him with a GPS device, he hunts him down over and over again so as to torture his victim mentally as well as physically. While this doesn’t sound like a bad thing to happen to someone as terrible as Kyung-chul, by letting him go Soo-hyun puts others at risk to suffer at Kyung-chul’s hands, who becomes more frustrated and unpredictable with each assault. Soo-hyun also puts himself at risk, who’s blood lust consumes him, driving the point home how his actions do nothing but harm those around him and continues the cycle of violence.

Despite the two and a half hour run time the film moves at a fast enough pace so that it never drags and keeps you pulled in. Cinematographer Lee Mo-gae, who’s worked with Kim Jee-woon before, outdoes himself shooting a beautiful and slick looking movie that carries a dark, tense atmosphere. Both lead actors are superb, as is the whole supporting cast, with Choi Min-sik really stealing the show. When it comes to graphic violence, this film holds nothing back, it’s one of the most violent films I’ve seen in awhile. From action sequences to scenes of torture, there’s blood splattered all over this movie, no gorehound will leave disappointed. Despite this, there’s enough emotional weight felt throughout the film to keep it from feeling like a heartless gorefest.

I can see I Saw the Devil reaching the ranks of such cult Asian exploitation classics such as Oldboy, Ichi the Killer, or Tetsuo: The Iron Man with it’s powerful story and extreme violence, albeit more comparable with the former with it’s dark revenge themes and lack of campy flair. Although Soo-hyun’s actions may seem too extreme for his character to be believable, it’s meant to be over the top to show the dangers of violence corrupting a once good person. I recommend this to any fan of extreme cinema and a good, gory revenge movie with some heart behind it. But mostly blood.





Review: Funny Games (1997, Madman Entertainment)




Category: Arthouse/Experimental, Home Invasion, Psychological
Directed by:
Michael Haneke

Written by: Michael Haneke
Starring: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski
Music: N/A
Cinematography: Jürgen Jürges

An Austrian home invasion thriller that mixes elements of meta-fiction and dark humor, Funny Games centers around two men who take control of their victims’ homes and subject them to senseless acts of brutality. Director Michael Haneke’s initial vision for the film was to critique violence in media with a frustrating film centered around pointless violence lacking a real plot.

The beginning hints that you’re not in store for an average horror/thriller movie, when at random a track from experimental noisecore outfit Naked City (which features jazz legends John Zorn and Bill Frisell) interrupts the classical music that’s playing once the opening credits pop up. I was so confused that I actually thought that maybe the video file on my computer got corrupted by an mp3, since I have a few of their CDs on my hard drive and my computer has spliced things together at random before, so I went to Netflix and realized that it wasn’t an audio error. The movie seems to go back to normal when two overly polite men in golfing attire, named Paul and Peter, show up and purposely annoy the three piece family with their odd antics. Eventually one of the them busts the patriarch Georg’s knee and they begin toying with the family in a variety of sadistic ways.

Paul and Peter maintain a very polite, playful and calm demeanor throughout the film, clearly taking joy and showing no remorse at all for their actions. Paul breaks the fourth wall at various points, addressing the audience and even effecting the movie in more drastic ways. Although none of the other characters seem to realize that they are in a movie, Peter makes multiple references to the typical formula of a movie. Neither character offers any reason for their actions, although they offer many conflicting backstories in the form of cliche origin stories. The family, consisting of husband and wife Anna and Georg along with their son also named Georg, basically fight an uphill battle most of the film while being subject to Peter and Paul’s sadistic games. The film is quite violent, which is basically the idea behind everything, although it’s not rife with guts and gore. The film would probably be more relevant now than it was back in the late 90’s with the torture porn sub-genre gaining popularity in the mid-2000’s with films like Hostel, Haute Tension,and the Saw franchise putting gory films in the spotlight again which are the type of movies that Funny Games was criticizing.

While it was never the intention, Funny Games is a smart, refreshing thriller that is a breathe of fresh air amongst a slew of generic horror films. With a sympathetic cast of victims, unique antagonists, and an overall good looking movie I definitely recommend this to any horror fan, although some of the random occurrences and deus ex machina moments may piss some people off, but that was the intention all along.




Review: Snowtown (2011, Warp Films)



Category: Crime/Noir, Psychological
Directed by:
Justin Kerzal

Written by: Shaun Grant
Starring: Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway, Louise Harris
Music: Jed Kurzel
Cinematography: Adam Arkapaw

Snowtown is a bleak crime film that recounts the events of one of Australia’s most well known serial murder cases, The Snowtown Murders, masterminded by John Bunting. On May 20, 1999 eight bodies were found in barrels of hydrochloric acid in Snowtown, South Australia with three additional bodies found in Adelaide. In the film, Elizabeth Harvey and her three young sons; Jamie, Troy, and Nicholas, become acquainted with the charismatic John Bunting who manipulates those around him into murdering those he deemed unfit to live.

Our protagonist Jamie and his brothers have indecent photographs of them taken in the beginning of the film by their mother’s boyfriend. With the police not being much help, Elizabeth’s transvestite friend Barry introduces her to John Bunting who has a particular disdain for pedophiles and homosexuals. With the help of the boys he scares the man out of town and begins to rally together the neighborhood and slowly begins to manipulate them. Under the guise of vigilante justice, he’s able to get those under his spell to commit senseless acts of violence.

Shot in a gritty, realistic tone, Snowtown takes place mainly in the poor suburb of Salisbury North where the stoic atmosphere amongst the townsfolk and use of grey oriented color tones creates a depressing atmosphere from the beginning. Aside from Daniel Henshall (Bunting) and Richard Green (Barry), the rest of the cast consisted of non-actors which adds to the docudrama-esque quality of the film. Henshall’s portrayal of Bunting really steals the show balancing his charismatic, patriarchal personality he displays in public and the psychotic yet cunning and collected part of himself he keeps hidden. The other characters all seem rundown and share a similar sense of ennui which made it difficult for the supporting cast to shine, although this fit the tone of the film as to make it believable that these people can be coerced to murder.

The manipulation process was the focus of the film, with a two hour run time giving ample time for a believable story. Bunting preys on the weaknesses of those around them and breaks them to his will, taking almost complete control of his peers. His relationship with Jamie being a main focal point, using a fatherly approach to make Jamie feel as though his actions are done to protect him. While the acts of murder and torture take a backseat to the main plot, when they do show acts of violence it’s unforgivably brutal. Avoiding over the top blood and gore, the torture scene in the film is difficult to watch as John stares directly into his victim’s eyes as he’s repeatedly strangled, allowing him to breath just long enough to stay conscious.

I read up a bit on the actual murders when I first heard about this film, and it’s fairly accurate to the real events. The murders were extremely violent and gruesome and unlike many films based on serial killers, first time director Justin Kurzel shies away from the violence to focus on the relationship between John Bunting and the townsfolk. I very much enjoyed the film, the cast was great and it’s very well shot, the interactions between the characters is very believable although it’s fairly long and there are spans of time where not much action happens so I can see how some could get bored halfway through the film, especially if they’re expecting a plethora of murder scenes. Check this out of you’re into slow burning, psychological crime films.