November 22, 2012

Bedevilled: Friendship Is a Bloody Mess

I suppose, you could call Bedevilled a horror movie since in its bloodiest, climactic section, you do find a crazed yet determined woman killing just about everyone in sight. But the real horrors in Jang Chul-soo's gritty little gem aren't the murders -- which in truth are disturbingly satisfying -- but the abuse suffered by the film's ingratiating protagonist, a good-natured naif named Bok-nam (Seo Yeong-hie) who's become a kind of pathetic joke to neighbors and family. Her husband (Park Jeong-hak) beats her. Her mother-in-law (Baek Soo-ryeon) ridicules her. The town aunties belittle her without mercy. As you see her abused by nearly every person on the remote island on which she lives, you can't wait 'til they in turn get their comeuppance. Which they do in chilling fashion.

But what makes Bedeviled such a great pic isn't its story of righteous vengeance but a sub-plot of devotion and betrayal involving Hae-won (Ji Seong-won), a childhood friend who escaped from the island and who has returned as a completely self-absorbed, big city sophisticate. It's Hae-won we meet first, not Bok-nam, and in a weird way Bedevilled is her story of transformation, too as a truly discomforting tension exists between these two women, a tension extending beyond their suppressed lesbian attraction to the much more commonplace push-and-pull that happens when a needful friend is desperately searching for help while the self-sufficient one is committed to not getting involved. Hae-won's self-justified detachment becomes both Bok-nam's undoing and her liberation. With no one to turn to and overcome by relentless misery, she lashes out and thereby turns Bedevilled into a kind of feel-bad chick flick in which the dangers of not subscribing to the sisterhood are revealed in gory detail. Whether you're an old lady championing the patriarchy or an old friend who can't be bothered, Bok-nam has no sympathy for you. Like any respectable fright flick, Bedevilled is ultimately a political allegory, in this case a cautionary feminist tale that encourages the manicured hand to reach out to the rough-skinned one with dirt under the nails. Hear the message as you scream.

1 comment:

  1. I hate to say that I wanted Hae-won dead so much. SO MUCH. Oh, Bok-nam... This film was everything Sling Blade wished it could've been (plus a pile of bean paste).