Written and directed by Kang Park, Seire is the 21 days after a new baby’s birth, people must take the utmost care and strangers aren’t allowed to visit to protect the child from bad luck. However, new father Woojin breaks the taboo and goes to an old girlfriend’s funeral without telling his wife, setting off a series of strange occurrences. Starring: Seo Hyun-woo, Sim Eun-woo, Ryu Abel and Ko Eun-min.
One of the things that Kang Park does beautifully with Seire takes hold right from the very beginning and sees it through to the end, and that is its dense, permeating and gripping atmosphere. It sets the tone perfectly that all is not well, superstition meeting with bad memories to create a haunting air. Park’s directorial style, which is even more impressive given that Seire is his feature debut, burrows beneath your skin, it’s enthralling in its use of the supernatural and how deeply dark it’s willing to get. It works so well because it doesn’t try for any cheap tricks or easy jump scares, it’s consistently compelling, it’s slow and makes calculated moves to push you gradually into discomfort. It starts off on a more curious note but by the time that it reaches its conclusion, you’ve well and truly moved into disturbed territory. All of which is done while moving back and forth between reality, memory and dreams, leaving you unsure how much you can trust.
The writing style matches flawlessly with the direction, if you boiled the story down into a quick summary it’s actually quite simple but the way it plays out feels complex and layered. It holds a very intriguing amount of emotional issues, it’s swimming in guilt, worry and regret. It’s also extremely clever in how it uses the supernatural, it’s not diving in headfirst to ghostly apparitions but the presence is pronounced. There’s a gradual quality to how it evolves, following Woojin (Seo Hyun-woo) as he loses his grip on reality. However, as it enters its final moments it makes a few choices which are a swing and a miss, leaving things on an odd note which doesn’t do justice to the rest of the film.
Seo Hyun-woo was a fascinating choice to play Woojin as he creates such a conflicted perspective for viewers, he’s neither sympathetic nor unlikeable. There’s something to his portrayal that walks between the lines, never fully defining what sort of person he is, which only serves to further make you question everything. Yet at the same time he brings a big vulnerability and desire to please others, it’s a puzzling mix which draws you in effortlessly. Sim Eun-woo’s portrayal of his wife then enhances the atmosphere with her journey further into the superstitions, initially resisting then being slowly overtaken by extreme caution and maternal instinct. Ryu Abel throws a huge wrench in the works with a dose of mystery and tension. She gives us a dual performance which throws the story into disarray and is a key factor in the film’s toying with reality.
Seire is a genuinely haunting exploration of superstition and regret, it’s atmospheric and has a creeping sense of dread which fiercely pulls you in. It wanders into darker territory than you might expect, taking a few risks which drive the film deeper under your skin. Kang Park’s writing and direction are unbelievably strong and consistent for a debut feature, the thick air of suspicion and fear is infectiously gripping.