South Korea, 2020, 98’, Korean
Directed by: Kim Kwang-bin
Script: Kim Kwang-bin, Kwon Seong-hui
Photography (color): Choi Chan-min
Editing: Kim Sang-beom
Art Direction: Park Il-hyun
Music: Jo Young-wook
Producers: Kang Myung-chan, Kook Soo-ran, Kim Young-hoon, Son Sang-beom, Yoon Jong-bin, Ha Jung-woo, Jeong Won-chan
Cast: Ha Jung-woo (Sang-won), Kim Nam-gil (Kyung-hoon), Heo Yul (In-a), Kim Si-ah (Myung-jin), Shin Hyun-bin (Seung-hee), Kim Soo-jin (Myung-jin’s mother)
Date of first release in territory: February 5th, 2020
Premiere status: International Premiere
As the film opens, a severely decayed video, apparently recorded in 1998, shows a shaman performing a séance that ends in bloody disaster. Present day: a successful architect Sang-won and his preschool-age daughter In-a move into an isolated house in the countryside. It turns out that he lost his wife in a car accident, and both he and In-a are suffering from PTSD. After claiming that she found a new friend, who apparently resides inside her room’s unsettlingly huge closet, In-a goes through a strange personality change. Eventually she disappears without a trace. Emotionally devastated and suspected by the police and media, Sang-won is accosted by a young self-proclaimed paranormal expert Kyung-hoon, who argues that In-a’s disappearance was but the latest episode in a decades-long pattern of children disappearing inside their homes, and that only he knows how to recover her. Sang-won, initially skeptical, has no recourse but to trust Kyung-hoon, but neither of them fully realizes just how vengeful and dangerous In-a’s abductor can be.
If you feel that this storyline is familiar, you are not wrong. The Closet wears the influence of Poltergeist, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and They on its sleeve. Nonetheless, debut director Kim Kwang-bin has an excellent eye for compelling visuals and knows how to maintain a brisk pace. Kim’s direction does partake of a dash of video game stylistics, such as younger Korean filmmakers are wont to do, but not to a seriously annoying degree. If anything, the film is surprisingly full of solid horror-action setpieces with a nod to 1980s Hellraiser-Nightmare on Elm Street grungy-but-colorful aesthetics.
As for acting, Ha Jung-woo is more subdued than usual; his toned-down performance actually works well in the context of the overtly melodramatic climax. Likewise, Kim Nam-gil refrains from overdoing the kind of “cocky SOB” shtick that has nearly ruined many Korean genre films. But in any case, the film is dominated by Kim Si-a (The House of Us) as the child ghost Myung-jin, coldly contemptuous and believably vulnerable in turn. Actually, it would have been interesting had the film explored the interaction among Myung-jin and the abducted children from her point of view, instead of devoting time to the boring technical details of Kyung-hoon’s rituals.
It’s true that The Closet’s screenplay succumbs to a typically retrograde Korean mainstream view about parenthood.
I am glad that the film unequivocally critiques the soft attitude some Koreans have toward the practice of “family murder-suicide” but it still resorts to characterizing a “good parent” as someone who must constantly hover over a child. Despite having created a chance to cinematically explore the unique difficulties of single-father parenthood in contemporary Korea, the film evades its responsibility by bringing in mother figure(s) as deus (dei) ex machina. I do not want to scold The Closet too much for doing this, considering the far too many “It’s all Mommy’s fault!” plots and resolutions (the flip side of the “It’s all Mommy’s love!” nonsense infusing many other movies) I have seen in Korean genre films. Having a Korean father reflect on his indifference toward his daughter’s emotional well-being, even if in the end a mere plot device to steer the film toward its tear-jerking resolution, is surely a start. I guess The Closet could have been a more powerful film, either as a family melodrama or a supernatural horror, but what we have is still agile enough for me to anticipate Kim Kwang-bin’s next project with goodwill.
Born in 1981, Kim Kwang-bin studied film at Chung-Ang University and shot numerous short films in the early part of his career. Among them, Modern Family (2011) won Best Short Film at the Dubai International Film Festival and the Dallas Asian Film Festival, while How to Pick a Lock (2016) won the top prize in the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival's Korean Fantastic Shorts competition. The Closet is his feature film debut.
2020 – The Closet