Our world noticeably became smaller when the information super highway plowed through our local communities. After that we found ourselves a part of a new populace, what has been coined as the international community. Sure, being in that community doesn’t mean we don’t fight over land, oil, and whose health care is better, but we can, at least, share movies and music at the speed of our communal servers. It’s a brave new world, and at the cusp of that new world was this week’s Netflix Horror pick, A Tale of Two Sisters.
With the advent of the internet, and the subsequent ability to communicate and share at a level of ease that had never been known before, we were able to have access to points of culture and ideas from countries that are separated by oceans. In 2004, that led to A Tale of Sisters, written and directed by Jee-woon Kim, to be the first Korean horror film to be theatrically screened in the United States. This was also the same year that Ringu(The Ring) and Ju-on(The Grudge) also found their way to the American consciousness through video releases. This means that thanks to the information super highway American Horror had a new neighbor, Asian Horror. And frankly American Horror was a little freaked out.
Like its Asian peers, A Tale of Two Sisters doesn’t depend on anything as overt as a hulking killer preying on young women. Instead it takes time ambling through dark and creepy atmosphere, always waiting for what is in the shadows to make an appearance. In a Tale of Two Sisters, we amble through the gloom and darkness with Soo-Mi(Su-jeong Lim) and her much meeker sister Soo-yeon(Geun-Young Moon). They have returned home from an undisclosed location with their father,(Kap-su Kim) to find that their stepmother(Jung-ah Yum) has taken hold as the resident matriarch.
The horror unfolds as we learn the secrets hidden in the past, both the secrets of the house itself and of the residents within. In American Horror this family would most likely be attacked by a madman outside. In A Tale of Two Sisters, and Asian Horror in general, there is no threat from a madman. No tangible threat at all really. The danger is from within and can effect any of the characters at any time. It spends its time in the intangible, the thing we can all feel but can never really know or understand.
On a technical level, most of the tension and horror come from the skill of Jee-woon Kim, who has an uncanny ability to film this house in a way that is not only confusing but completely unsettling. The audience is never given a solid floor plan of the house. Instead it almost seems to be shifting and changing like a living creature. When the audience may feel like they have there bearings the camera will shift, revealing we are looking through a mirror. Through this camera trick, among others, the characters unease isn’t just a plot point, it’s a palpable emotion that the audience can identify with.
I’ve been intentionally vague towards A Tale of Two Sisters because the majority of the horror comes when the puzzle, that is the plot, is pieced together in very disturbing ways. This leads to a climax that is not simply scary, but also heartbreaking. Because in A Tale of Two Sisters the real horror doesn’t come from others, it comes from the choices and mistakes we all make. Good luck sleeping after watching this one.