Kyung-min (Kong Hyo-jin, Missing) is an attractive, twenty-something bank teller living in a small studio apartment by herself. A temp worker up for a transfer to a full-time position, she suffers from overwork and chronic fatigue, guiltily snatching cat-naps during work hours. Shy and considerate, she is good friends with a more rambunctious co-worker Hyo-joo (musical actress Kim Ye-won) but is constantly subject to belittling by her superiors, as well as harassment by a super-creepy customer Ki-jung. She experiences a vague sense that she is being watched, too, but brushes it off as just nerves. However, beginning with a panicky episode involving her section chief and a cup of coffee, the situation rapidly mutates into a murder case, with the police detective (Kim Sung-oh, Unstoppable) eyeing her as a possible suspect. Afraid for her life, Kyung-min enlists Hyo-joo’s help to start her own investigation.
Door Lock, an adaptation of Jaume Balagueró’s contemporary Spanish-language thriller Sleep Tight (2011), was a decent-sized hit, strongly supported by female viewers and raking in more than 1.5 million tickets (thus earning back its $3 million budget). Kong Hyo-jin, following her acclaimed performance as a Korean-Chinese nanny with a dark past in Missing, again proved her ability to carry a film commercially. Despite her lanky frame and model-like poise, Kong has little difficulty projecting vulnerability and anxiety in a convincing way. It is largely due to her sensitive performance that Kyung-min comes off neither as a passive damsel in distress nor a plucky working girl version of Nancy Drew. She is quite heartbreaking when tearfully apologizing to her friend, and believable in her expressions of bewilderment, frustration and resignation at the men – bank superiors, customers, police detectives – who continue to blame her for the very trouble caused by their aggression, prejudice and indifference.
Like Bedevilled (2010), Door Lock is almost surreptitiously feminist without deviating too much from its genre. Its considerable suspense is generated by situations that remind many unmarried South Korean working women of the real-life dangers to which they are uniquely vulnerable: the anonymous stalking, the randy, supposedly “trivial” intrusion into one’s private space by male co-workers and clientele, the sudden shaking of a studio apartment door in the middle of the night. Another admirable aspect of director Kwon Lee’s approach is its restraint: even though the film eventually slips in instances of Grand Guignol-like corporeal mutilation, he refuses to salaciously dwell on these elements, instead focusing on Kong and the other actors’ reactions to underscore their full-blown horror.
As was the case with, say, Office (2015) or Bluebeard (2017), the film features a “cold,” bluish color palette to generate a sense of isolation and urban anxiety, expertly realized by DP Park Jung-hoon (The Villainess) and DL Lee Je-woo (My Ordinary Love Story). Dalparan’s effective score ranges from avant-garde percussion to variations on Erik Satie, again underscoring the fragmentation of communal bonds and neuroses of the haunted characters. The film’s main weakness is its somewhat rudimentary whodunit mystery (it is not difficult to figure out who the real culprit is, if you have seen your share of classic mystery movies), although its climax, which evokes both The Shining and The Silence of the Lambs without ladling the homage gravy on too thick, works pretty well, again focusing on Kyung-min’s struggle to overcome the clutches of the perpetrator rather than on the latter’s superhuman villainy, as a garden-variety slasher horror would.