09:00 - 4th August 2013, by Calum Waddell


The debut movie of director-to-watch Jang Cheol-so, Bedevilled is a rural horror movie / culture-clash story in the tradition of such chillers as The Wicker Man (1973), Wes Craven's underrated Deadly Blessing (1981) and the more-recent Hong Kong opus Inugami (2001). Where these titles differ from such outright outback nightmares as Deliverance (1972) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is in their attempt to show an "old world" tradition, based primarily around religion and gender politics, coming into contact with a modernity that it is not ready to breach. Korean creeper Bedevilled pretty much follows this tradition - with a bitchy bank worker (well played by Ji Sung-won) roped into visiting a childhood friend on a desolate island after being forced to take a vacation by her boss.

However, upon arrival, the erstwhile financial expert discovers herself thrown into a regressive environment in which the area's elders (all of whom, save for a near-catatonic old man, are women) hold what few men reside there in ridiculously high esteem. The only younger woman on the island is the consistently-abused Bok nam, who struggles to look after her pre-pubescent daughter (a product of a gang rape) in the shadow of her violent husband. However, when she sees her beau fondling her child one afternoon, it is too much for Bok nam and she opts to try and leave the island with the help of a friendly prostitute who has been brought in from the mainland to satisfy some of the other island men. Sadly, this never materialises and - during a beating for even attempting this leap to freedom - Bok nam's child is slapped to the ground, landing hard against a rock and dying shortly thereafter.

When a police officer comes to investigate the death, not only do the elders deny any knowledge of who the real culprit is, but Bok nam's bank-working buddy also turns a blind eye. The result sends our heroine over the edge and, armed with a razor-sharp sickle, the newly awakened femme fatale finds her feet and opts to fillet most of the movie's especially unpleasant cast... The end result is enough impaled necks to make even Jason Voorhees proud.

And this, ultimately, is Bedevilled in a nutshell.

Beginning as a story about a nine to five office worker coming to terms with a more prohibited - not to mention misogynistic - environment, the movie takes a strange turn towards psycho-film dramatics about an hour in and, from there, barely looks back. Clearly a feature of two halves, Bedevilled is at its best when building suspense and an ominous feeling of trepidation - although its eventual lapse into slasher flick theatrics is taut and well-realised. Best of all is actress Seo Yeong-hie as Bok nam, perhaps the most sympathetic screen siren of recent years. Having already done the whole victim thing in 2008's rather ridiculous Chaser, here the performer actually gets to gain some revenge against her oppressors and, rest assured, it is a joy to watch.
Politics of the North are also, at least, breached in scenes of poor Bok nam labouring away in a field whilst her comparatively spoilt "guardians" drink water and eat fruit under the shade. Indeed, as our time on the story's hideous island increases it becomes all too tempting to see the various human rights abuses in the context of one of Kim Jong-il's gulags.

However, Bedevilled also has one major fault that stops it from being a five star movie: namely the last 15 minutes. In effect, the story comes to a perfectly poignant conclusion a good quarter of an hour before its end credits. Indeed, if we could stop every budding viewer from watching what looks like a tagged-on coda, which does the movie's mythology more damage than good, then we would. Without giving too much away let's just say that - in short - Bedevilled adds one final, and extremely idiotic, gore-filled showdown to its running time which will leave most viewers feeling bummed out. It is not only unnecessary but it results in a glaringly gruesome end for a very likeable character...

Yet, this gripe aside, Bedevilled is extremely watchable, beautifully filmed and packed to the hilts with top notch performances. For a first-time filmmaker Jang Cheol-so certainly shows confidence behind the camera - and Bedevilled benefits from a genuine feeling of madness and despair. Gore-hounds will also, no doubt, be relieved to know that, although it's not as nasty as some of the more recent K-horror that we have been seeing (such as the torture-porn staple Missing), potential spurting veins, chewed-off fingers and hacked open wounds are par the course for this one.

This description alone will, of course, be enough to give readers an idea of whether or not Bedevilled is for them. But for anyone seeking a solid shocker, with a steady build-up to the inevitable moments of big-time blood-loss, then we would wager that this might just be the ideal title to take home...

It may not be everyone's idea of a good night in, but director Jang Cheol-so can rest easy in knowing that those of us at NEO are happy to consider ourselves suitably "bedevilled"...
SCORE: 4/5
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