I Saw the Devil (film review)
Runtime: 141 mins | Directors: Ji-woon Kim, Kim Jee-woon
Review By Dan Collacott
'You don't have to become a monster to defeat a monster'
Revenge and obsession has been a watermark of Korean film thrillers in recent years, in fact they have their own sub genre. I Saw the Devil extends this legacy - building upon the foundations already laid by films such as Oldboy and more recently The Man from Nowhere.
The seemingly familiar tale of revenge begins when twisted serial-killer Kyung-chul (Oldboy's Vhoi Min-sik) unknowingly murders the pregnant fiancé of government secret agent Kim Soo-hyeon (The Good the Bad and the Weird's Byung-hun Lee). Soo-hyeon makes a promise to his dead love to make her killer Kyung-chul suffer 100,000 times more than she did. Carrying out that promise Soo-hyeon seeks to painfully and systematically destroy his enemy, hunting, catching and then releasing him so he can inflict more damage. A cracked window into the life of Kyung-chul accompanies the revenge plot thread, sustaining interest until the pace quickens when the whole bloody situation begins to turn and unravel. In contrast we find out little about Soo-hyeon's background, but even as you struggle to empathise with his actions - the rawness of his pain and torment still scratches at your soul.
The film's moral compass is all over the place and all the normal elements of a crime thriller are blurred and questioned as the cat and mouse game threatens to tear out the still beating heart of the story. Ji-woon Kim's film is a superbly dark and twisted tale, leaving the audience as appalled by the heroes actions as they are with the killers, the ultimate question at the end is 'who really is the monster?'
The Divide (film review)
Dir. Xavier Gens , US, Year 2012, 110 mins
Cast: Lauren German, Michael Biehn and Milo Ventimiglia
Review by Dan Collacott
Residents from a Manhattan high-rise hole up in a basement bunker under their building after a nuclear attack levels the city above them. The survivors are a fractious bunch, consisting of a loveless couple, a single mother, two sadistic brothers and their half brother, and a racist New York fireman (for the 9/11 angle). Despite the elaborate shelter being stocked with food and electricity, the spectre of hope fades quickly when they are sealed in by mysterious men in hazmat suits.
Frontiers director Xavier Gens expertly crafts a Lord of the Flies style scenario where a group of humans cut adrift from civilization descend into anarchy, paranoia and primitive regression. Gens cultivates the descent of their humanity through a series of key touch points, from the dismemberment and disposal of corpses, to extreme violence, child abduction, incarceration, radiation sickness, torture and rape.
Screenwriters Karl Mueller and Eron Sheenan keep dialogue minimal, weaving a complex, layered and highly visual drama. Gens films the whole piece chronologically with little character exposition, keeping the tension high and the deterioration disturbingly tangible. The world inside the shelter soon becomes more terrifying than the nightmare that awaits them outside. The transformation of the group is incredible - aptly demonstrated by the photo of Josh below:
The group’s behaviour becomes increasingly more desperate and unhinged, but the level of moral ambiguity and changing dynamics within the group make it hard to really empathise with any of them. Only Eva (Lauren German) seems capable of keeping her head. The graphic violence and debauchery reaches a climax when the film’s focus moves to the two brothers (played brilliantly by Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund as Josh and Mickey). Exhibiting arrested development from the start, the duo rise up to the top of the pecking order. Grieving mother Marilyn (Patricia Arquette) becomes the target of their spite and sexual cruelty. Under their control the situation warps into a playground of violence, immorality and degradation until the group inevitably collapses in on itself.
I first saw The Divide at Frightfest and there was much to be admired from this tense and claustrophobic apocalypse survival story. The themes and characterisations are stomach churning and unnerving, but the writing, direction and incredible cinematography from Laurent Barès combine to create a film that challenges and astounds in equal measure.