Bedevilled‘s premise is a little like a violent retelling of Robin Hardy’s folk-horror classic, The Wicker Man. Stressed-out career woman, Hae-won (Seong-won Ji) heads to the remote island of Moo-do for a brief vacation with childhood friend, Bok-nam (Yeong-hie Seo). Finding a tiny community of just nine people, Hae-won is horrified to discover that Bok-nam and her young daughter are horribly treated by the island’s other inhabitants.
Forced to work in the fields by a cackling trio of elder women, and subjected to terrible abuse by her husband and his lecherous brother, Bok-nam begs the pale, doll-like Hae-won to help get her and her daughter off the island.
Cold and worryingly indifferent to Bok-nam’s suffering, Hae-won refuses, and instead acts as a passive witness to Bok-nam’s violent mental disintegration, leading to a violent, yet inevitably bloody climax.
The bewitchingly leafy environs of the island are a backdrop for an unremittingly harsh film of violence and degradation, and it’s the moments involving Bok-nam and her daughter’s cruel treatment, as opposed to its blood-letting, that prove to be the hardest to watch.
First-time South Korean director, Chul-soo Yang, appears to be attempting to formulate some sort of comment about gender politics, misogyny and the degrading impact of domestic violence, in the film’s first two-thirds, but much of this is swept away by the later segment’s fountains of gore.
After a slow, quite meticulous build-up, the film degenerates into the kind of revenge scenario familiar from films like I Spit On Your Grave, making the first half of Bedevilled a manipulative justification for the righteous fury meted out in its second.
Bedevilled isn’t, however, a badly made film. Making the most of a small budget, it’s well shot and edited, and Yeon-hie Seo should be commended for an absolutely tremendous performance as a desperately innocent, vulnerable woman goaded into committing terrible acts.
I also liked the way in which Hae-won is introduced as the film’s central protagonist, only to be revealed as a selfish, coldly indifferent character as the narrative unwinds. Ultimately, it’s the simple, put-upon Bok-nam who wins our sympathy. There’s an interesting interplay, too, between her naivety and the detached selfishness of Seong-won Ji’s effete city dweller.
Had the rest of the island’s inhabitants been invested with the depth of her character, Bedevilled would undoubtedly had more impact, and perhaps even a little less predictability. Instead, its Greek chorus-like collection of jeering old women and perverted young men are rather too evil to be truly believable.
A mash-up of twisted relationship drama and slasher horror, Bedevilled flings together two genres in a manner that serves neither particularly well, but nevertheless provides several moments for reflection amid the precipitous showers of blood.
Notably light on extras, the Bedevilled DVD includes a behind-the-scenes collection of clips, a TV spot and a trailer. A pity, since I’d have welcomed some proper insight into the film’s conception from its director, and an interview or even feature commentary are sorely missed.
Bedevilled is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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