Movie Review – Bedevilled (2010)

2010’s Bedevilled, the feature directorial debut of Jang Cheol-soo, is a South Korean horror film which won numerous awards upon its release. It stars Seo Young-hee in a terrific performance as Kim Bok-nam, a woman living in a small community on an under-developed island who is treated as little more than a slave by those around her. Her husband beats her, his brother rapes her, and the old women of the island glorify these men and heap mental hardship upon her, bullying her into submission and exhausting her with the most physically demanding chores. They’ve all conformed to a cruel pack-mentality which I wish I could say is unrealistic.

There are two strings of hope upon which Bok-nam tentatively grasps, the first being the 15-year-old promise of a childhood friend, Hae-won (Ji Sung-won), to bring her to Seoul but who has been ignoring her letters for years and who has now returned for a short stay. The second is the well-being of her young daughter who she begins to suspect is being sexually abused by her husband. When she resolves to escape with her daughter things go from difficult to unbearable, and Bok-nam’s sanity is pushed to the limits, at the end of which is a blood-soaked sickle.

Bedevilled 2010 still

It’s difficult to watch Bok-nam’s abuse, which never seems to be in a hurry to be done with, and the movie moves at a glacial pace. This is all as it should be, given the gravity of the torment. Nevertheless, Cheol-soo’s direction, the cinematography, and especially Young-hee’s performance make for an eminently watchable experience. The sexual abuse, while shown, never devolves into exploitation. The script is more than a straightforward I Spit on Your Grave (1978) woman-scorned-style rehash, but is interwoven with its own symbolism and some deep psychological character study. It’s not just male misogyny that is to blame, but female indifference or acceptance of it as well. In particular, Bok-nam’s relationship and history with Hae-won is slowly revealed, and we come to understand both women in unsettling ways to the extent that, when Bok-nam turns to stalking Hae-won, we aren’t sure who we should be rooting for. For their part, they seem unsure as well.

Bedevilled, which is also known by the English translation of its Korean title, The Whole Story of the Kim Bok-nam Murder Case, is raw in its violence, but also in its emotion – a rare combination, unfortunately – and it is one of the best of its kind in the “Day of the Woman” revenge subgenre.

Grade: B+