review by Diablo Joe
The miracle of childbirth is such a primal part of existence that it is one of the great horror thematic elements. Many of the films we have seen, “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Brood,” ”Inside,” and most recently, the terrific “Huesera: The Bone Woman,” center around the mother and child. Coming from Korea, Kang Park’s film “Seire” focuses on a father and the customary, highly superstitious Korean period of “three-seven-days” following a birth called “seire.” During this time, visitors do not enter the home, and care is taken not to do anything that might bring bad luck to the newborn.
Woo-jin and his wife have recently welcomed a baby girl into their lives, and the household is still under the 21 days of the “seire” period. But something is already weighing heavily on this new father’s mind, and when Woo-jin receives word of the death of his former college love Se-Young, he breaks “seire” tradition by attending her funeral. There Woo-jin meets her identical twin sister. Haunting flashbacks to his time with his ex intensify, and a series of dark mishaps and tragedies suggest that his violation of taboo is to blame.
Park’s film simultaneously mediates upon fatherhood, guilt, and the nature of superstition and sympathetic magic. As much a psychological thriller as horror film, “Seire” unfolds slowly, with sinister deliberateness. Woo-jin is almost helpless in his inability to follow the strict urgings his highly superstitious wife believes will be best for their child. After she discovers her husband has gone to the funeral against her wishes, she demands he atones by passing off the bad luck he has incurred. But Woo-jin even fails in this task with seemingly horrific results. Is it some tragic flaw in Woo-jin’s nature? Is it the guilt over his relationship with Se-Young? Or is it a reluctant fear of fatherhood that is to blame? The film never decides, leaving it for us to judge for ourselves.
As the tragic Woo-jin, actor Seo Hyun-woo carries the weight of his character as a great burden writ large on his face. From the first time we see him, he looks weary, and even when he attempts to act cheery and happy, it is a pale and transparent façade. Woo-jin is in every scene in “Seire,” and it is through Seo’s subtle and heartbreaking performance that the film works so well. Also outstanding is Ryu Sun-young in the dual role of Se-Young and her twin sister, exhibiting a melancholy that is practically aching.
Kang Park maintains a solemn, slow, pace throughout the film, with carefully modulated dynamics and mood. But the film never bores, instead building an unsettling sense of dread and sadness throughout the story. Park’s visuals are equally as restrained and “Seire” is filled with long, quiet closeups of Woo-jin’s face and ample opportunities for the audience to read into the picture’s visual symbolism. The subtle transitions the director crafts between current time and memory and between reality and illusion are never jarring but always startling, nonetheless.
What Kang has crafted is a perfect illustration of how superstition survives. Nothing Woo-jin experiences could be anything more than mere coincidence, but then again, it seems that everything is inextricably linked together, and every erring action he makes is culpable in what follows. “Seire” is both original and a reverent nod to tradition, and it is poignant and horrifying bleak. And it is the sort of film that sits with you long after its chilling final scene.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Seire” 4 out of 5 imps.