Saturday, June 29, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #29: I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)

The Story: A sadistic serial killer picks the wrong victim, and incurs the wrath of an equally sadistic hitman.

Expectations: I didn't know anything about this movie, but the Netflix kept insisting that I would like it. 

Reaction: Two and a half hours of consistent brutality is an endurance test for even the hardened horror fan.... but there's something about the slow pace of this film that makes it seem lyrical rather than simply vicious.    At times, I felt like it made the violence seem more real.  At other times, it made the violence seem surreal.  For example, when the police discover the first female victim, one of the detectives is practically hypnotized by the sight of her decapitated head floating in a stream.  The shot of her face, unmarred and overwhelmingly lifelike, lingered long enough for me to feel the same way.  Then a bunch of sleazy news journalists -- literally dozens (are murders really so rare in South Korea that the reporters will climb over each other for a photo?) -- swarmed the scene, shattering the mood.  As a whole, the sequence was genuinely disorienting.

I can't say that I got invested in the story, however, until about an hour in.  By that point, the female victim's lover is pursuing her killer.  At first, it seems like a straightforward revenge scenario... and it's hard not to root for the hitman, who kicks the shit out of his quarry.  Then comes the twist: The hitman leaves the killer injured, but alive.  Not because he's a noble guy, but because he wants his victim to suffer.

Up to this point, the film has been about the serial killer's displays of power.  Now we see that power get stripped away from him.  Is it fun to watch the brutality because this guy really deserves it?  Sure.... at least up until the scene where the hitman uses a blunt tool to sever his Achilles tendon.  I won't give any more details, but I will say that when this happens, there is still a full hour left in the movie.  The cat and mouse game between hitman and serial killer continues to escalate into cat vs. ninja, hellhound vs. ninja, etc.  For a while, I had the sense that it was becoming a film not about revenge, but about reform.  The hitman says he wants to make the killer recognize the pain and fear he has caused others... but the level of sadism in his demonstrations still implies angry revenge.

By the end, I wasn't sure how I felt about what I was watching.  Torture as entertainment is one thing, but torture as entertainment pretending to be moralizing is something else.  I SAW THE DEVIL is a  well-acted and visually captivating film that raises plenty of worthwhile questions... but its final answer to everything seems to be violence and more violence.  That left me feeling cold.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Worst Achilles tendon injury since Pet Sematary.


  1. Yeah, pretty much my feeling after I watched this Korean film last year. I enjoyed THE MAN FROM NOWHERE, out the same year, better (though it's not exactly horror).

    1. Thanks for the tip, Michael. THE MAN FROM NOWHERE is going on my list for the next marathon...