Given the proliferation of soggy dead girl movies in which the villain is marked out by the long, bedraggled black hair that hides her decaying face, a film that was about the evil hair itself seemed almost inevitable; The Wig, arguably, just takes the trope to its logical conclusion. Yet at the same time, The Wig has more to offer than most of the recent bandwagon-jumpers. It’s really a lot more intelligent than you could reasonably expect a film about a killer wig to be.
Admittedly, the premise isn’t encouraging. Su-hyeon, a terminal cancer patient, is taken home by her sister, Ji-hyeon, who doesn’t want to let her waste away in a dingy hospital. To encourage her, Ji-hyeon brings her sister a wig to hide her vulnerable bald head; but the wig does more than restore Su-hyeon’s confidence in her looks. With the wig on, Su-hyeon looks healthier, and more attractive. She has buckets more energy, and although she stops taking her medication, the cancer seems to be retreating. She begins to believe the lie that she’s been brought home because she’s cured, rather than just because the hospice was too depressing a prospect for Ji-hyeon, and starts going out partying. But when Su-hyeon’s parted from the wig, it all goes horribly wrong — and when a friend, who stole the wig in a desperate attempt to win back her ex-husband, turns up dead, Ji-hyeon realises that the wig is… um, well, evil. There’s no way of putting that without sounding stupid, which is frustrating given how seriously every other element in the film is taken.
One of the revelations about a central character’s past near the end of The Wig veers dangerously close to territory already covered a million and one times, but before I had time to finish rolling my eyes the film flipped the script, throwing in a completely unexpected element and completely changing the dynamic at the centre of the film. The problem always comes back to the villainous wig, which gets several chances to fly through the air and molest people, or else grow beyond all control and sneak up on people. It’s a shame that there’s so much CGI nonsense, because it detracts from all the character work and emotion threaded through the narrative.
Although, obviously, there are any number of soggy dead girl movies I could liken The Wig to, the one it’s most reminiscent of is A Tale Of Two Sisters. It has that same dreamlike quality — or, rather, nightmarelike — and the same sense that there’s a lot you won’t figure out the first time through. The central relationship between two sisters is the most important component in both films, too, and the main feeling evoked by both movies is sadness rather than fear. The Wig isn’t a scary movie, despite borrowing many of the now well-known conventions of the genre, and it’s not the sort of thing you’d want to watch with friends or alcohol — it demands more of your attention than that. The horror element sometimes complements the more sentimental aspect of the film, and sometimes doesn’t; there are some absolutely brilliant set-pieces, including one Final Destination-esque car crash, and a scene involving pills in the hospital, that are beautifully pulled-off and deliciously creepy, and there are some utterly daft moments, including one where Su-hyeon’s reflection in a train window comes to malicious life, that break the mood entirely.
The real triumph of The Wig is its visual style, which, okay, isn’t vastly different from the visual style of films like the aforementioned A Tale of Two Sisters or even Ring, but it’s careful and considered and shot with an eye for beauty and detail. Early on, there’s a shot of Su-hyeon sitting naked and bare-headed in an empty bath, crying, utterly alone and vulnerable, and while this could easily have been played for exploitation or turned into the obligatory shower scene of slasher movies, it isn’t. It’s just upsettingly sad. Making Su-hyeon so fragile and sick before visiting all sorts of supernatural nasties on her feels cruel, somehow — and you have to think that Ji-hyeon had second thoughts about destroying the one thing that gave her beloved sister health and strength again, even if it was evil — and, well, when’s the last time a horror movie made you feel for its characters?
There’s a shot in The Wig of the titular hairpiece hung up above a cardigan on a coathanger that looks creepily like the ghost in every other movie in this genre. It feels almost knowing, that shot, almost like it’s winking at the audience. Ultimately, where The Wig falls down is when it tries to fit into that soggy dead girl convention. It’s better than most of the films in that genre, undeniably, but it’s also not quite a brilliant film simply because it really is difficult to take seriously a bunch of evil CGI hair flying about. Shame, really.