Korean horror has picked up in the last twenty years tenfold. From films like Bedevilled and Thirst, they took on the revenge and vampire themes that a lot of classic horror films are built upon. But honestly, I’ve been most impressed with films like The Wailing and Train to Busan. The latter bred new life into the very tired zombie genre and made a darn watchable film, while The Wailing knew exactly what buttons to push when it comes to religion but then used that to make an interesting and thought-provoking film. That’s why when I saw that we had a copy of Seire, I knew I had to review it, even though I probably would be too scared to write about it for a few days. I’m so glad I did.
According to the legend of samchil-il, 21 days after childbirth, the baby is vulnerable to bad luck, curses, and evil spirits. One of the most popular of the methods to keep out those spirits is to wrap the home with rope to keep outsiders out. No taboo is to be broken no matter how difficult it may be. For if you do, then you will suffer a horrible fate.
New father, Woo-Jin (played by Seo Hyun-woo) looks at an apple and then cuts it. He shortly leaves after his wife, Hae-Mi (played by Shim Eun-woo) tells him of a craving and announces she is pregnant. Nervous and excited, Woo-Jin roams the streets until he finds some apples, which he takes (that looks a lot like stealing). Then he cuts those apples only to find that they are rotten from the inside. It must be a mistake, as he keeps cutting them open only to find the same rotting apples. But a pregnant wife shouldn’t be eating apples at night. So the wife eats one anyway. As we pan back to the apples on the table, we notice that the rot begins to take over each apple as they rot on the outside as well. The black ichor from the apple starts to spill as we hit the credits.
We learn that Woo-Jin has been having bad dreams ever since their baby was born. To add to the struggle, the mother-in-law is now leaving, and the only two left to help with the newborn are of course himself and Hae-Mi. Hae-Mi’s sister is pregnant and is reminded about the taboos of Seire, but she sees it as silly superstition. Woo-Jin leaves to go to work but is reminded to get some dahlias, a favorite flower of Hae-Mi.
Woo-Jin works at a place that makes and sells various tonics. One of their best sellers is the carp tonic, which is supposed to help pregnant women and those with newborns. He is given two containers, one for his wife and one for his sister-in-law, to deliver. On the way home, he picks up hydrangeas rather than dahlias. After arriving at the apartment, he pours some of the tonic in a glass for the wife to drink.
While the couple talks about the tonic, Woo-Jin’s phone starts to flash that he has received a message. It appears that Se-Young (played by Ryu Abel) has passed away on February 19th. When asked by his wife about who that is, he says it was just an old college friend. Hae-Mi tells him to send money, but don’t go, as going to a funeral during samchil-il brings evil spirits. However, we soon learn that Se-Young was actually Woo-Jin’s ex long-term girlfriend, and simply sending money isn’t going to be enough in this case. Unfortunately for everyone involved, this starts a streak of unspeakable terror and bad luck.
Most of the time, I’m not a fan of films where there really is no one to like. However, in this film it’s quite different. Every one in this film is a little annoying or creepy (or sometimes both), and it adds to the overall eeriness of the picture. Woo-Jin’s character arc is something to behold as the nightmarish dreams are blended with escalating doses of reality until it overcomes his every thought and action. This is a film where the term “slow burn” is used precisely and will require the viewer to pay attention to the various nuances as they happen on screen.
By having all of the characters unlikable (except for perhaps the fish tonic guy, who was the only comic relief in this movie) it also creates a sense of disbelief in the viewer. We aren’t sure what to believe by the time the final scene unfolds and have no idea if we are in a dream or reality. There is a supernatural element, obviously, with some of what’s going on, but it’s toned down sufficiently enough for us to question those circumstances.
The final thing worth mentioning is that the ending is rather open-ended. As mentioned above, we are questioning whether this is all a dream, but at the same time the final scene might leave the viewer with more questions than answers. What happens to Woo-Jin here, and will he change his type of apples? Seriously, I don’t think I will ever look at a red delicious in the same manner for quite some time.
Kang Park, the director of this fine picture, was also nominated for Best International Feature Film at the Zurich Film Festival as well as Best Film at the Busan International Film Festival. This film also won the FIPRESCI prize at the latter. It’s a slow burn that at times will leave the viewer with more questions than answers, but in the end I think we are rewarded with a fantastic film full of dread and that uneasy feeling that more horror films should strive for (rather than jump scares).
Film Movement again brings us this film in the DVD format. Unfortunately I think a Blu-ray with a proper enhancement of the audio and improvement on the blacks for video would have really helped this overall. To this point, I have not found a legitimate Blu-ray release of this movie in any country. Regardless, I am certainly recommending that everyone check out this film, even those who somewhat shun horror movies (or foreign films). It’s thought-provoking and really was a pleasure to watch (and probably also bears multiple viewings, to be honest). You’ll never look at apples in the same way ever again. Enjoy.