Saturday, 10 September 2016

Review: The Silenced

The Silenced is a thriller-mystery written and directed by Lee Hae-young, released in 2015, and starring Park Bo-young and Park So-dam as students at the secretive boarding school run by headmistress Uhm Ji-won. I found it by scouring through the horror section - my favourite section - on UK Netflix.

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I'm a casual fan of foreign film and television - that is to say I haven't seen many of the big titles that have been released over the past few years, but I've seen the occasional Danish or French film and Swedish television series. I am by no means an aficionado and I don't recall ever seeing anything made outside of Europe or the USA, so I didn't have any particular expectations when I started watching The Silenced, other than I had planned on sitting down to a horror. 

The story is set in 1938, during the Japanese colonisation of Korea, and after following her car through mountainous forests we are introduced to a rather sickly looking Ju-ran, known as Shizuko (which, rather aptly, means "quiet child"), portrayed by Park Bo-young. Her stepmother is begrudgingly escorting her to her new, isolated boarding school, where she will be treated for tuberculosis.

It's quickly clear, though, before Ju-ran even steps across the threshold of the school, that a spectre is hanging over it. She has the same name as a previous student, Shizuko, who disappeared overnight without a word to her schoolmates. Her two best friends, Kazue and Yuka, are particularly devastated by this, but while Kazue befriends the shy Ju-ran, Yuka reacts quite differently, and bitterly resents the new Shizuko.

But Yuka's vicious attacks on her are the least of Ju-ran's worries. Another girl disappears, but not before Ju-ran encounters her in a more than peculiar state and the mysteries of the school deepen.

The concept behind The Silenced is not one unfamiliar to the average film fan, but to describe it or even just compare it to other films would certainly destroy the mystery. I must, though, praise the film for its unique historical backdrop and its female-led cast. The claustrophobic environment of the boarding school allows for dynamic relationships to form between unpredictable characters as the film progresses and we wonder who we should like, and never quite expect what's coming next. All the while the viewer cannot help but notice the beautiful 1930's-inspired sets and costumes - the girls' uniforms made my heart skip a little beat!

Admittedly, the film wasn't perfect. There were times when the story moved slowly, but one can rarely expect something set in a girls' boarding school in 1930's Korea to be fast paced at all times, and I'm not sure I would want it to, because the slower pace allowed for the character development I admired throughout. The film just wasn't the "horror" I set out to watch - which made sense once I finished and realised it was rated G.

The Silenced is a carefully constructed film that never quite reaches a crescendo, but is certainly worth a watch regardless. I would recommend watching it on a Sunday evening with your favourite type of hot and comforting beverage, because the story may not pan out the way you expect it to - or, indeed, urge it to.
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