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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.08.08] movie review horror

Whereas American cinema is in the habit of looking East to Asia (and a lesser extent Europe) for inspiration for its horror films, Phil-Sung Yim’s film takes some of its inspiration from classic European fairy tales. But Hansel and Gretel isn’t a modern take on the Brother’s Grimm tale instead, it uses the basics of the story (children in the forest), turns it slightly on it’s ear and produces a dark fantasy that is more nightmare than fairy tale.

Eun-Soo is driving along chatting on his cellphone, having a rather uncomfortable conversation with his pregnant girlfriend, when he veers off the road to avoid an animal. He wakes up a short time later disoriented and lost. Wandering around the dense forest in search for the road, he comes across a little girl who seems more of a dream than reality. She takes him home to spend the night only once there, it’s immediately apparent that things are not as perfect as they appear to be and Eun-Soo spends the next six days trying to escape the forest and “House of Happy Children” which seems to have drawn him out of reality.

Though it features a few legitimately frightening jumps, Yim’s film is more of a thriller than a horror film. It features very little blood, brutality or physical violence though the mental exercises it puts the viewer through are enough to keep you on your toes. One of the film’s greatest assets is its production design. Nothing, and I mean nothing, in this film was left to chance. From the moment Eun-Soon lays eyes on the so-called House of Happy Children, it’s as though one is transported into some strange daydream. Inside, it’s a marvel for the eyes with candy coloured walls, intricate carpets and wallpaper, trinkets, toys and shinny objects at every turn. You could see this film a hundred times over and not pick-up all of the minute details which were so meticulously planned. The result is a dream scape too perfect to be wholly good and Yim takes full advantage of the perfection, using it to build the film’s creep factor.

Along with the beautiful design come excellent performances from the three children who are also haunting in their perfection. Immaculate complexions and adorable smiles are only the beginning but neither Yim nor writer Min-sook Kim thought it necessary to oversimplify the characters. These children aren’t your worse nightmare they’re simply children who don’t know any better. Jeong-myeong Cheon plays the lead role of Eun-Soon as beautifully as the children, giving the character an air of innocence. But even with the great performances from the leads, the show stealer is Hee-soon Park in the role of Deacon – byun, a man who, with his wife, are brought in to replace Eun-Soon who is intent on leaving. From the first time you see him standing in the snow it’s clear that this man is evil and as the film progresses, the character’s niceness becomes ever more disturbing.

Although there is a lot to in Yim’s film, it’s not without some minor problems. It runs a little long, taking it’s time to build character which, for the most part is unnecessary considering how well Yim develops the characters through the action. Eun-Soon’s continued attempts at escape begin to drag, and I would have preferred to see less of the escape attempts and more of the evil Deacon in action. Then there’s the small quibble with the ending that seems rushed in comparison to the rest of the film but these are minor quibbles, nitpicks on a film which creates more tension in the first ten minutes than the entire running time of Hostel 2 while never resorting to graphic violence.

It’s no The Shinning but Phil-Sung Yim’s Hansel and Gretel is an entertaining and gorgeous trip through the twisted imagination of a child and it’s a trip I can’t wait to take again.

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