Judge Joel Pearce has a new product idea: canned supernatural crap!
The root of all evil.
A masterpiece of misjudgment, Acacia is one of the most inept horror movies I have ever seen. As with most other Korean horror films, it looks nice, but it also highlights everything that can go wrong with the genre.
Facts of the Case
Unable to have children of their own, Do-il (Kim Jin-geun) and Mi-sook (Shim Hye-jin, Ginkgo Bed) adopt Jin-sung (Moon Woo-bin). He is an intelligent young boy, but extremely jealous and very quiet. He spends most of his time drawing, and shares a strange connection to nature. He is obsessed with the acacia tree in the backyard, and carries beetles around with him. When Mi-sook gets pregnant with her own child, Jin-sung's jealousy becomes more dangerous, causing some strange and supernatural accidents.
Apparently, the Asian horror producer's guild has discovered that kids can be really creepy. It worked in Ringu, as well as Ju-on and Phone. The biggest problem with Acacia is that director Park Ki-hyung got confused about this. It's not enough to put a kid in your movie and have creepy music whenever the camera is pointed at them. Creepy horror kids need to do creepy things. When the girl in Ringu crawls out of the television, it's creepy. When the kid in Phone goes after her parents with a pair of scissors, it's creepy. When Jin-sung pulls the thread out of a sweater, it's not scary.
And that's the problem with the whole film. Most of the truly frightening scenes are dream sequences, and they come so far out of left field that they are too surreal to fit into the context of the film. The supernatural elements aren't strong enough to carry the horror. We suspect that the tree is evil, and that Jin-sung is evil (if only from the music), but there aren't enough tangible displays of evil until near the end of the movie. The girl next door has some disease related to vampirism, but if she's unable to go to school because of it why does she spend so much time outside with Jin-sung?
So, here's my pitch for the new improved Acacia: can the supernatural crap altogether. Now, instead of a supernatural ghost story, Acacia will tell the story of a troubled young boy who is adopted into an already troubled family. His inability to adapt to the new environment causes a lot of tension and pain, which is increased once Mi-Sook gets pregnant and has her own child. Then, the natural problems that exist in the family and the arguments over Jin-Sung's disappearance gradually tear the family apart, until the guilt and anger cause them to tear themselves apart, leading to the same surprise ending that the film already has.
This new film would work better, because more time could be spend on developing the characters and their struggles, and a lot less time trying to establish the scary mood with repetitive shots of the acacia tree in the backyard and creepy music while Jin-Sung is drawing. Moments like the boy pulling apart the sweater would be more effective, because rather than trying to convince us that a supernatural evil force is causing him to ruin the sweater, it could be because of his jealousy and inability to adapt to his new environment. When Do-il and Mi-sook's relationship collapses in the second half of the film, it could be because they are struggling with the genuine challenges of raising a troubled orphan, not because their tree is haunted. People do terrible things sometimes, and the horrors of human capabilities could have made this a really scary film. True, we would have a lot less scenes of red yarn unwound over the whole house, but they could easily be replaced by heartrending and challenging scenes of human conflict.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Not everything about Acacia is terrible. I liked the ending, which had a good horror twist that was both chilling and disturbing. The cinematography was also fantastic, revealing a sophistication that was lacking in the other areas of the production. Most of the film is shot in sepia tones, using vivid color for the important and supernatural details. Even if the red yarn all over the house isn't scary, I have to admit that it's a striking image. The relationships between the characters are explored through angles and lighting, and much more is expressed visually than verbally. The actors all do the best they can with the material, and would have done even better with a more mature screenplay.
Tartan has delivered another well-produced DVD. The video transfer showcases the visuals, with no visible flaws of any kind. The sound transfer is strong as well, with a good dynamic range in the DTS track, clear dialogue, and good surround usage. It feels a little flat at times, but the scenes in the rain at the end come pounding from all directions. There are more extras than Acacia deserves. The commentary track with the cast and crew is in Korean and subtitled in English, which is hard to read, and it's more casual and conversational than most Hollywood tracks. There is also a photo gallery, and a production featurette that covers much of the production. It does so almost silently, though, choosing to simply pile together some footage during the filming. Interviews cover the basics of character and plot.
Although it could have been an interesting horror movie about adoption and family relationships, Acacia fails on almost every level. Horror movies need to be scary, and this one doesn't kick into gear until very close to the end. Its insistence on being a genre film prevents the story from being interesting or fresh, which also ruins the solid cinematography and performances. With so many hot Asian horror movies getting released these days, there's no point in wasting time with this one.
Acacia needs to be chopped down. Court dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Commentary Track
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