Hae-mi (Sim Eun-woo) is so protective of her newborn, I-su, she won’t let her sister Hae-Sun (Ko Eun-min) enter the apartment. When her husband Woo-jin (Seo Hyun-woo, "Decision to Leave") gets an obituary notice via text, Hae-min tells him to just send condolences because funerals bring bad luck when an infant is most susceptible to it in its first three weeks, a period known as “Seire.”
Laura's Review: B+
Writer/director Park Kang makes his feature debut with the creepiest fear of fatherhood movie since David Lynch’s “Eraserhead.” But while Lynch’s entire film was a surreal nightmare, Kang’s protagonist slips in and out of them, haunted by an event in his past that may or may not be causing supernatural misfortune in his present.
Kang throws us off kilter right away by plunging us into one of Woo-jin’s nightmares. He sees who we will learn is Se-Young (Ryu Abel), his girlfriend of six years, sitting in front of the refrigerator, telling him she is craving apples. He (and cinemtographer Hwang Gyeong-Hyeon) regards her pregnant belly and goes out into the night, jogging up a misty, deserted street where he nonetheless finds the fruit despite the later hour. The apple he cuts into at home, though, bleeds from a black, rotten core. He is momentarily confused (as are we) when his wife walks into the kitchen, asking what he is doing.
Woo-jin appears to make his living supplying herbal tonics to doctors, bringing concoctions home for both Hae-Mi and her sister, the dark syrupy liquid also appearing in his dreams. But the creep factor rises to a whole new level when Woo-Jin does attend that funeral and gives his condolences to Ye-Young (also Ryu Abel), the twin sister of the deceased, describing himself to the grieving parents as a friend from college. But Ye-Young appears to know he was much more than that.
The way Park slips between dream and reality keeps us off balance, yet his gradual, tactical disclosure of back story begins to pull his strands together as he builds Woo-jin’s ever intensifying nightmare. As Hae-mi assiduously follows the superstitious rules of Seire, instructing Woo-jin to steal something from a bar, a store and a stranger in order to divert evil spirits, Woo-jin’s transgressions ricochet back into their lives in increasingly disturbing ways, involving not only I-Su, but Hae-Sun’s unborn child. His confrontation of his own guilt for an act that Park wisely never spells out, is a master class in minimalist effect, an actress’s eye movement combined with unnatural utterance positively chilling.
Sim Eun-woo’s ambiguous portrayal of Hae-mi leaves us guessing as to the source of Woo-jin’s unhappiness. Seo Hyun-woo, who begins and ends the film looking into the camera in close-up, is a depiction of a man unraveling, his last, most emotional, scene as chilling as Ryu Abel’s restraint. Ko Eun-min and Kim Wookyum as her husband Sung-Tak offer solid support, the happy couple gradually undone by their brother-in-law’s behaviorial effect upon them.
“Seire” is an impressive debut that marks Kang as an inventive, suggestive storyteller with an eye for what unnerves us.
Robin's Review: B
There is a 21 day period, for a newborn child in Korea, when the utmost care is required to protect the baby from bad luck. Woo-jin is a new dad but, when he hears of the death of a college friend, he breaks that protocol and attends the funeral, much against his wife’s wishes and fears in “Seire.”
Korean horror films have earned their own distinct slot in the genre. I am not a big fan of horror movies, in general, but Korean filmmakers have a unique hold on me. The horror element here is more psychological than shocking as the new dad must deal with new responsibilities under the inherent supernatural forces of bad luck.
Woo-jin wants to be a good father and protect his baby from bad luck and misfortune. But, when he learns of his friend, Se-young’s, death, he is torn between family and friendship. Defying his wife’s wishes, he attends the funeral, where he meets his late friend’s twin sister, Ye-young. Things get complicated as the supernatural – apples get rotten at the core symbolism – intrudes and Woo-jin’s life spirals out of control.
Things are not right for Woo-jin when he approaches the body and, to his horror, she seems to breathe. At this point, the horror is all from his POV and, we know, he is not thinking too clearly. Woo-jin’s unraveling is the center show to watch.
First-time helmer and scribe, Kang Park, casts a decided gauntlet that he is an up and coming talent in the K-horror pantheon of filmmakers, Let us see what happens next.
Film Movement releases "Seire" on VOD and digital on June 16, 2023.