DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

HIDE AND SEEK (SOOMBAKKOKJIL) (director/writer: Huh Jung; cinematographer: Kim Il-yeon; editors: Jae-beom Kim/Sang-beom Kim; cast: Mi-seon Jeon (Min-ji), Jung-Hee Moon (Joo-hee), Hyeon-ju Son (Baek Sung-soo), Kim Ji-yeong (Pyaong-hwa), Jeong Joon-won (Ho-seh), Kim Soo-an (Su-ah), Kim Won-hae (Sung-chul); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kim Eui-sung; Ram Releasing; 2013-South Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)

"It's entertaining in the creepy way it plays out as a home invasion flick against an unlikable materialistic family."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

First-time Korean director Huh Jung helms a captivating horror thriller despite big plot holes, a wacky premise and an illogical story. It's entertaining in the creepy way it plays out as a home invasion flick against an unlikable materialistic family.

It tells the odd tale of the withdrawn, obsessive-compulsive, well-off cafe owner and happily married Seoul resident Baek Sung-soo (Hyeon-ju Son), someone with dark secrets from the past, who dwells in a luxury condo apartment in a hi-rise modern complex with his attractive fashion-savvy wife Min-Ji (Mi-seon Jeon) and bratty older adolescent son Ho-seh and spoiled daughter Su-ah (Jeong Joon-won & Kim Soo-an). Sung-soo' secure life gets unglued when he receives a phone call from a housing manager in a slum just outside of Seoul about his estranged brother, Sung-chul ((Kim Won-hae), going off without paying the rent and visits the building with his family in tow in his luxury car. There Sung-soo discovers that his missing brother served time in jail as a sex offender and has lived in the now abandoned messy apartment for the last two years. It's also learned through flashbacks that the brother was kicked out by dad for committing some horrific sexual act when he was in high school, as the adopted brother Sung-soo lied about what he witnessed.

Strange symbols are inscribed under the doorbells in the half-empty slum building, a building block designated soon for demolition. Meanwhile the terrified tenants claim a masked person, wearing a motorcycle helmet and clad in all black, is stalking them.

On the eerie visit Sung-soo meets Joo- Hee (Jung-Hee Moon), the strange woman living next door to his missing brother. The unstable woman lives there with her weird patch-eyed young girl Pyaong-hwa (Kim Ji-yeong), and hysterically warns Sung-soo to tell his brother to quit spying on them. After the scary visit, Sung-soo returns to his luxury digs, quite a contrast from the slum, and finds his family is stalked by the same masked psycho. Tension builds as Sung-soo's family is threatened and mom reacts by calling her mom in the States for an immediate visit with the kids. But before the move, Sung-soo's home is invaded and destroyed, and there's a life and death struggle with the mysterious monster intruding in their once serene lives.

The low-budget film is slickly produced and has a way of getting the viewer to suspend belief, as it smoothly lures us into the bizarre violent story by ratcheting up our psychological primal fears about the rumor that the slum building, where the missing brother resides, is swarming with illegal squatters who hide in the apartment's of the occupants. On its baser level it dishes out the usual horror pic frights of knife splatter gore.

REVIEWED ON 7/15/2014       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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was a pretty big hit in its native country.

 
Best described as a mystery/thriller that delves deeply into horror territory by the time the kinetically entertaining third act shows up, Hide and Seek ("Sum-bakk-og-jil" in Korean) starts out with a creepy little misdirection of a subplot that makes a lot more sense later on, but is mainly about a dour and fastidious middle-aged family man (Son Hyun-joo) who learns that his long-estranged brother -- one who was once banished from the family for reasons of a horrific nature -- has gone missing. This brings the disinterested but guilt-ridden Sung-soo to an apartment complex full of secrets, mysteries, weird ladies, unhappy children, and squatters who live inside empty rooms and burrow into occupied living quarters. It all gets pretty weird.
 
Jung Huh's screenplay strikes an enjoyable balance between the main story (Sung-soo quickly discovers all sorts of disturbing things about his missing brother, which immediately puts his pretty wife and two adorable kids in serious danger) and the "flashback" material that explains why our ostensible hero is so unhappy, so obsessive, and so damn guilt-ridden about the fate of his long-lost brother. 
 
But worthwhile subplots and legitimate character development are not necessarily the main course here; they merely serve as a welcome garnish to the film's main course of suspense, scares,and unexpected surprises. At its best moments, Hide and Seek doles out both "crowd-pleasing" moments of hardcore suspense and a handful of sequences that horror fans will certainly appreciate. And for a first-time feature director, Jung Huh certainly knows how to stage a scene, shoot it well, and cut it together for maximum intensity.
 
Hide and Seek is not exactly a deep or highly insightful piece of horror / thriller / mystery filmmaking, nor is it exactly all that original, but it is well-made and slickly effective, and it has no problem juggling three complementary genres at the same time. You may see some of the twists coming, but you might not. And some of the scarier bits are just plain old fun.
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