|'Cheol-soo seems uninterested in giving us guidance on which way to turn, but the reluctance to do this leaves an uncertainty in the air that those questing for definitives in their films may find uncomfortable'|
Mirroring a number of its South Korean cinematic contemporaries, Bedevilled straddles several modern genres well and creates something interesting in the process. Most recognisably a part of the Far East 'extreme cinema' Horror offering, there is also evidence of some more niche sub-genres here, something discussed brilliantly and at length by Jonathan Bygraves in his article on 'Urbanoia' and gender.
That article gets somewhere towards the root of the main problem with the film, as director Cheol-soo Jang wrestles with his key choice to present two protagonists, both with unique journeys, both vying for our sympathies and attention. Hae-won (Seong-won Ji) is intially presented to us as the lead, leaving her city-based job for a quiet trip to Moodo Island, but on arrival her childhood friend Bok-nam (Yeong-hie Seo) takes over, taking us through the rest of Bedevilled.
The changing of the guard between the two presents key questions to the audience, particularly during the finale. Perhaps admirably, Cheol-soo seems uninterested in giving us guidance on which way to turn, but the reluctance to do this leaves an uncertainty in the air that those questing for definitives in their films may find uncomfortable. The choice is also deceptively dark: despite appearances, there are, by the end, reasons to withdraw your support for both protagonists on rather sound grounds.
The bulk of the film feels concerned with finally doing something interesting with the 'wronged-female revenge' sub-genre, with, it is not a spoiler to say, Bok-nam finally building to a point where she is prepared to pass out vengeance for past abuses. The timbre of the film is less pitched at the fever-celebration level of some Western entries to this cinematic lineage, but is instead more interested in investigating the wider implications and reasons behind the actions of Bok-nam in the film's final third. Importantly, few characters escape blame, something which is assigned on a considered basis and is at least equally shared between those who do bad things (including Bok-nam) and those who choose not to do good things. Bedevilled's crimes are at least partially of deliberate ignorance, as well as shocking violence.
Having mastered the trickiest part of his film, Cheol-soo's other experiments are perhaps not quite so successful. A fleeting opening hint that there is a dreamlike element to this narrative (watch for a fade out from a set of wind chimes very early doors) is never followed up when doing so might perhaps have added another layer to Bedevilled (this could have been dream or nightmare; fantasy or harsh reality). Yeong-hie's performance too seems oddly directed and/or performed, leaning towards a very broad sort of mania during the opening half. There is a point (a huge contrast in the second half) but it still feels a little jarring in what is, for large periods, a successfully subtle, if very violent look at culture clash and age old oppression.