Korean horror, and South Korean cinema in general, have been booming since the early 00s. Movies like Joint Security Area (2000), My Sassy Girl (2001), Old Boy and Memories of Murder (2003) helped popularise Korean cinema and made it “mainstream” even for Western audiences.
These films are now widely regarded as some of the finest motion pictures in modern times, and so are A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), The Host (2006), I Saw the Devil (2010) and Train to Busan (2016) for the horror genre. However, even before this renaissance of South Korean cinema, that country gave the world some damn cool horror flicks, albeit not as popular as the aforementioned.
One of them is Suddenly in the Dark (originally titled Gipeun bam gabjagi… good luck pronouncing that!), which came out in 1981 and was recently rediscovered thanks to Mondo Macabro, a distribution company that restored and distributed last year this Korean film on Blu-Ray, in an edition that’s packed with insightful featurettes.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – Suddenly in the Dark (1981)
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Suddenly in the Dark is a very offbeat, unique film that can be described as either a slasher/giallo movie or an erotic horror-drama. After seeing it, I’d say the latter is a more fitting definition, since the story revolves around Seon-hee, a woman who suspects her husband’s infidelity since the arrival of their young housekeeper, Mi-ok, the daughter of a powerful shaman. Mi-ok’s apparent kindness hides some secret and malevolent intentions, at least according to Seon-hee, who becomes increasingly suspicious that Mi-ok is trying to kill her and usurp her household.
The other reason why this film can be considered more of a psychological horror-drama, filled with surreal elements, than a slasher movie is the visuals. In fact, Suddenly in the Dark is one of the most trippy horror films one can find: the kaleidoscopic cinematography, saturated with strong and bright colours, makes the distinction between dream and reality intentionally blurred and hard to tell apart. The camera-work is highly experimental, with the camera always placed in spots where objects clog up the lenses in a way that makes the viewer feel like they’re witnessing something they shouldn’t.
The dreamlike soundtrack and the intentionally awkward sound-design complete the puzzle and help turning this film into a fever dream that, upon watching, you vaguely remember and yet sticks with you on a deeper level.
As if these elements weren’t baffling enough, the mystery aspect of the movie (is Seon-hee losing it or is Mi-ok actually trying to use black magic on the couple?) makes the viewing experience even more compelling and intriguing.
The movie, also, features quite a few graphic scenes: the overall picture has an eerie vibe that most horror fans will appreciate, and the violence comes unexpectedly to heighten the tension when needed.
Yet, another aspect that makes Suddenly in the Dark ground-breaking is the combination of horror storyline and deeper social commentary, in this case about the woman in Korean society. In this movie, a lot of moments can be linked to themes of nervous breakdown and mental instability caused by living in a male-dominated environment. Whether you agree with the social and political point of view this film is trying to convey, you should be able to appreciate its subtlety and the attempt to do so while also maintaining a coherent and sensical story. Nowadays, many great horror movies have underlaying messages that improves them upon multiple viewings, but in the 80s (and in Korea especially) this kind of mixture was very rare, making Suddenly in the Dark a truly ground-breaking horror film.
It’s not a perfect film, though, as some aspects look quite dated nowadays: the violence and gore are rather tame compared to today standards, and so it’s the pacing. Some scenes are extremely dense of content, whereas some others “only” have great visuals to keep them going. The acting is also very theatrical and, sometimes, you might find it a bit laughable. None of these flaws made me love Suddenly in the Dark less, though: I’ve seen it twice now and the second time I found it more entertaining and interesting than when I first watched it.
If you can get your hands on it, please make sure to watch it if what you read sounds like something you might be pleasantly surprised by.
Suddenly in the Dark 8/10
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