Sunday, October 9, 2016

REVIEW: The Silenced (live action movie)

The Silenced is a Korean historical thriller movie with sci-fi aspects.

This review includes slight spoilers.


I wasn't aware of the history when I saw this movie, so some of the details of my description are the result of later online reading. Anyway, this movie is set in 1938, during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Ju-ran, assigned the Japanese name “Shizuko,” is sent to a Korean sanatorium because she has tuberculosis. The girls at the sanatorium are repeatedly told that they'll eventually be evaluated, and the two healthiest candidates will be sent to Tokyo and become Japanese citizens. It's something that many of the girls long for.

One of the two girls who seems most likely to be chosen, Yeon-deok (renamed “Kazue”) befriends Ju-ran. Yeon-deok takes her places the girls aren't supposed to go and generally encourages her. Ju-ran is given special medication, and her health begins to improve to the point that she starts to hope that maybe she'll be chosen to go to Tokyo with Yeon-deok. However, the sanatorium is hiding dark secrets. Yeon-deok used to have a friend who was also named Shizuko, but Shizuko disappeared, supposedly taken away by her family overnight. As Ju-ran begins seeing and experiencing strange things, she wonders what really happened to the first Shizuko.

Even though Netflix correctly categorized this as a thriller, I still went into it expecting more of a horror movie, and the first half of the film fit those expectations. I'm a horror wimp, so the various scares and slightly “off” atmosphere worked really well on me. Even so, I felt that the writer could have milked it more. The scares had barely gotten started when the movie's mood suddenly shifted again.

It's tough to say much without spoiling things, but the second half of the movie was very different from the first. Whereas the first half definitely felt like a low-key horror movie, more psychological than gory (with just enough gross stuff that I had to look away a few times), the second half was more sci-fi.  I didn't expect that shift at all. It was like two different movies had been cobbled together.

Another thing I hadn't expected was the way Ju-ran and Yeon-deok's friendship was handled. It felt like a chaste lesbian love story, from Ju-ran's jealous feelings towards Shizuko and one other girl, to the scenes with the candies, to the part where Ju-ran slipped into Yeon-deok's bed to happily show her how healthy her breath had become.

I actually would have been on board with stealth lesbian romance. My biggest worry was that their expectations wouldn't match up. Ju-ran seemed more emotionally invested in Yeon-deok than Yeon-deok was in her, and I wondered whether Yeon-deok really did see Ju-ran as merely a replacement for Shizuko. Unfortunately, then the ending happened. Here's where I'm going to start including some slight spoilers.

Don't get too attached to Yeon-deok. I had hoped she'd somehow manage to survive to the end, happily running away from the sanatorium with Ju-ran by her side, but that didn't happen. Combine that with the lesbian love story feel of some of the earlier scenes, and the result was just depressing. And kind of weird, because the final scene had an almost hopeful feel to it that didn't at all match what had just happened.

This really was a gorgeous movie. It had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it didn't know quite what it wanted to be, and story's overall balance was off.

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