A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Dir: Kim Ji-Woon
* * * *
Subgenres: Psychological horror, Gothic horror, haunted house.
Scare level: 7/10
scare type: the "what's in the box? "
Loosely based on the Korean folktale "Janghwa Hongreyeon jeon" A Tale of Two Sisters is a vivid and terrifying film fairy tale film with a clever post-modern streak. It begins, as a many a traditional fairy tale does, with two sisters whose lives are made miserable by an evil step-mother. But as the step-mother attempts to control her house hold, weird stuff begin to transpire. It's at this point that the film displays a confidence rarely seen in films of the genre, changing the viewer's sympathies, breaking up the narrative, and employing on dream logic. In fact, the film itself, seems to recognize what nearly every haunted house film ever made doesn't: the house is a rather ubiquitous dream symbol for the mind, or specifically the subconscious. Highlighting images of closets, covered bird cages, and drapery, seems to show a knowledge of dream symbolism suggesting that there is a secret here. As the film reaches the climax, this idea, and the supernatural/fairy tale aspect two are insuperably linked. This can be disorienting, and its meant to be, to viewers, however, the overall eerie mood, made by subtle reveals, and the gorgeous imagery of the film: it's use of color, light, and shadow is remarkable.
Ji-Woon has made a number of films about family's dealing with violent or supernatural crises (Quiet Family, Coming Out), and this too deals with a family in crisis with supernatural elements. But it's focus isn't' on the family as a unit, so much is it about the individual components of a family, and how these components can fail, and the effect this has on the other individuals in that family unit. The ending of the film may linger for a bit too long, but this is a gorgeous, and sufficiently scary film.