Friday, October 1, 2010

A Tale of Two Sisters

In this odd, moody, Korean horror film, two young girls return home after having been afflicted with an undisclosed illness. Their father is withdrawn and sullen, and their new stepmother is abrasive and high strung. As tension among the family mounts, it begins to seem that a mysterious, sinister presence is haunting the girls.

I've been meaning to rewatch A Tale of Two Sisters ever since I saw it 5 years or so ago. At the time, I had watched it late at night while very tired and felt I only had a vague impression of it. It seemed atmospheric and creepy, but I had trouble following the story. Turns out that wasn't just because of my sleepiness; the movie is heavy on mood, but it's twisty, turny plot doesn't seem to answer all the questions it raises.

For some films that might be a problem, but in many ways it's A Tale of Two Sisters' greatest strength. It's a little ballsy the way the film is willing to step off the beaten path of coherence, chasing haunting images and injecting melodramatic plot twists left unexplained until much later (and even then the explanation isn't always clear). For long stretches of time, you feel as though you missed some crucial piece of exposition that would provide context for all the eeriness. The effect is to throw you off your balance, but in a gripping rather than alienating way: you want to find out where it is going, in the hopes you'll finally understand.

This was an excellent kick-off to Your Vice is a Horror Movie Marathon and Only I Have the Netflix Queue: The Third My Nerd and I can only hope I find more movies this good. I am also hoping to watch the American remake, The Uninvited, at some point this month for comparison.

Grade: B+


Shenan said...

I really liked this one. I want to go back and watch it sometime and see if the plot twists actually make sense/are possible in the context of what happens earlier in the movie. If they don't though, I don't really care. It was creepy and entertaining enough to please me all the same.

Dan said...

Vague SPOILERS for anyone who hasn't seen this.

I'm not really sure, on a narrative level, that the twists hold up. Certainly they aren't exactly unique, but also I think there's a HIGH TENSION effect where, if you really think about what the twists mean, there are long sequences of the film where nothing is literally happening.

So, in that sense, it's a little lame. But the movie is more about atmosphere and tension than anything else, and it delivers those in spades.

I thought the movie was going to make more sense the second time through, but I'm not sure it really did. Best not to think too hard about the logic of it and just appreciate the craft.

Shenan said...

Well, I don't think necessarily NOTHING is happening. Because even if it's just imagined, it's still happening in someone's head, isn't it? It's still someone's experience, even if nothing is actually happening. If I read that right?

Anyway yes, it is about craft. And this movie certainly is crafty!

Dan said...

Okay, but (major SPOILERS) think about scenes like the one where the stepmother locks the one sister in the closet. Thematically I understand this scene, but literally both characters are figments of the imagination (or multiple personalities) of the other daughter, who is supposedly sleeping at the time and doesn't know right away what transpired.

What is happening in that scene? One imaginary character is torturing another imaginary character. Once you know that's the case, where is the suspense/interest in the scene on a narrative level? Why should we be fearful for the sister, if she's not even real? If it is all only happening in the mind of the living sister, then why not keep the scene offscreen instead of showing it in explicit detail? What am I supposed to feel when watching it?

Shenan said...

Well, I guess you're supposed to feel fear when you're watching it for the first time, and then an "ahhhh" realization moment when all is revealed...but you wouldn't really feel the same fear the second time around viewing it. It probably would have been more effective if we saw the real sister watching this transpire, helpless, instead of being "asleep" and "unaware" (though she's not actually asleep or unaware, as she actually sort of acts out all the parts and locks a doll in the closet)