Since Gores Truly is femme-driven – we’re big advocates for chicks and horror and want to give our XX-chromosome readers a chance to contribute to the horror-fest we adore. The following article has been Murder-Her approved. Introducing Clair Voyant.
“A Tale of Two Sisters Review”
When I was a child, the creepiest parts for me in horror movies and books were always the parts where the main character would have to lurk around in the dark for the source of the supernatural happenings, tensions high, and the possibility of what was about to happen endless. I always felt that anxiety acutely. It was always the fretful thoughts of what could be around the corner that freaked me out most before the actual scare. A Tale of Two Sisters is like that, only it’s 115 minutes of that moment again and again.
This is a difficult film to sum up without giving too much away and still make it seem worth your time to watch. Based on the Korean folklore, Janghwa Hongryeon jeon (The Story of Janghwa and Hongryeon), A Tale of Two Sisters follows the story of quietly defiant Su-mi and her reticent younger sister, Su-yeon. Released from a hospital after an unsaid amount of time, Su-mi and Su-yeon return with their distant father to the family home. They’re greeted enthusiastically by their stepmother, Eun-joo, their deceased mother’s former nurse, who’s happy to see they’re “feeling better” — but from what? The sentiment is not returned, and right away, something is off. No one says why the girls were at the hospital in the first place. Their father remains aloof and their stepmother seems to be increasingly unbalanced. The house is far from welcoming and the two girls greet the return of their old lives with wariness.
Whatever is hiding in the house doesn’t wait. Clothes and books that have already been put away seem to produce exact doppelgangers, and the first night reveals there’s something more in the house than just creaks and groans. The younger sister hears something trying to get into her room their first night back. Terrified, Su-yeon makes a run for Su-mi’s room. Convinced it’s their stepmother starting up her abuse of the timid Su-yeon again, Su-mi assures her younger sister over and over that she’ll always be there for her and that the house simply feels strange because they’ve been gone for so long.
The strange events don’t slow down, and soon others start seeing visions of ghosts, taking a toll on the already overwrought household. It begs the question: what is in the house that’s causing this? Su-mi has several nightmares of their dead mother ending in terrifying visions. During a family visit, the girls’ aunt suddenly drops to the floor, convulsing and claiming there is something not right in the house now, that she sees a girl under the sink. Then stepmother’s beloved pet bird is found dead. All the while, Su-mi tries to convince their father that Su-yeon is being abused again, he insists that it isn’t possible. It’s barely the next morning though when Su-mi can’t find Su-yeon but does find a bloodied and beaten canvas bag…
From beginning to end, the visuals are stunning: long, sweeping landscapes, beautiful lakes, and while the house itself is unsettling with its hypnotizing wallpaper and cluttered rooms, it’s also breathtaking by the same tokens that make it so eerie. The rooms seem to boast of affluence but at the same time the discord of the colors and mismatched furniture seems as unbalanced as the characters. The countryside setting is lush and full of greenery, the plant life in steep contrast to the death that surrounds the house and its inhabitants. The soundtrack, at once both melodic and matching with the idyllic landscape, reshapes itself and takes on new meaning toward the end, becoming more wistful to match the images being shown.
What’s a most interesting point about this film is that the scares don’t always wait until dark; several of the surprising moments happen in the early morning hours, or even afternoon. Yet it still manages to grab a hold of the viewer and make them feel uneasy. Prior to seeing this a year after it came out, I always counted the early dawn hours as a “safe point” in a horror movie, because nothing really attacked when it was starting to get light out; this movie destroyed that belief.
The characters are truly some of the most developed I’ve seen in a horror film. The house itself almost becomes a character, a shell for the hauntings that happen as soon as the two sisters come home. The rooms are desolate and the floorboards stretch out towards the next empty room, like arms reaching out. The devotion Su-mi has for Su-yeon is palpable, almost obsessive, and by the end of the film, you certainly know why. There’s a thirst to Su-mi, a yearning to protect and make all of the wrong situations right again.
Su-yeon is just adorable; she is the most endearing character in my opinion. You see her scared and helpless, but there are moments in the film where she’s almost happy and carefree; it’s a good mix that ensures her character does not become stale or tiresome. There’s a multilevel tier to everyone, even the stepmother, which helps pull everyone out of the same old archetype that movie-goers are used to. While there is the typical pale-skinned, dark-hair-in-face ghost that most Asian horror movies boast, she isn’t everywhere, and there’s a reason for her presence when she is in the scene.
While A Tale of Two Sisters takes its time going through the plot, I didn’t feel it was plodding, which is a downfall of many a horror film. No, it’s not action-packed right from the start, but the build-up is worth the near-two hours. There are few jump-tactics used to scare which have a nice delay that sort of catches the viewer off their guard.
What makes this film so poignant is its flashback towards the end, a sort of epilogue that turns into a prologue. The ending is what sold it to many of my more critical film-buff friends, but for me, it was a brutally satisfying ending to an already great film. The ghost story melds in with the family drama and a psychological aspect, leaving one wondering at the end: what really was going on? How much is real and how much is imagined? A Tale of Two Sisters is a diverse film, one that is watchable multiple times.
While a mild mannered librarian during the daylight hours, come night
Clair Voyant has a voracious appetite for all things horror.
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