Many good horror movies start by setting up a simple premise, a rule or tradition, or belief that the people on the screen must not violate. It could be as simple as not going into that spooky old house to not feed a Gremlin after midnight. If anyone in the film does, something terrible will happen.
For his debut film, writer/director Kang Park wraps his story around the Korean folk tradition, “seire,” the twenty-one days after a baby is born in which they’re uniquely vulnerable to bad luck, curses – even evil spirits. All new parents Hae-mi (Shim Eun-woo) and Woo-jin (Seo Hyun-wo), need to go about their average days calmly and quietly with no unexpected deviations, and their child will be safe. It seems easy enough until Woo-jin gets a text telling him an old college friend has died, and he insists on going to the funeral. That’s all it takes for the horror to begin.
With the ball in play, Kang takes viewers on a double-edged journey that shows us exactly why Woo-jin goes to the funeral and the consequences of his actions to his family. Without giving away specifics, let’s just say secrets are revealed that make you hate Woo-jin, but at the same time, root for him to do the right thing and reverse the curse while there is still time. Reality and the supernatural, past and present, collide with almost every step Woo-jin takes. It’s a delicate balancing act that Kang, for the most part, pulls off with style. Some of the imagery he puts on the screen is shocking, and some is confusing. All of it gets under your skin. Let’s just say that after watching Seire, you will never eat an apple without cutting into it first.
The acting in Seire is powerful, mainly Seo as Woo-jin. When we first meet him, he seems like the quintessential first-time father, overwhelmed by the tiny human who now lives in his apartment. And although he doesn’t share his wife’s superstitious beliefs regarding the seire tradition, he goes along to keep her happy. As the story unfolds, we learn that the still waters that are Woo-jin run dark and deep, and Seo does an excellent job of showing the terror his character undergoes as his world falls apart.
Shim is equally good as the new mom, a mousy woman who quickly becomes a fierce lioness when protecting her newborn. You don’t have to believe in the seire tradition to understand this woman will do whatever it takes to protect her baby, a fact that the director plays within some of the film’s more mind-bending supernatural/dream sequences. Shim also makes us believe that despite what the tradition says, Hae-mi is the voice of reason in the movie, the only one who cuts through her husband’s dilemma to try and save him and their family. Although if push comes to shove, she will cut him out.
Rounding out the cast is Ryu Abel, the twin sister of the college friend who passed away. Her screen time may be minimal compared to Shim and Seo, but her presence dominates the film and haunts you when it’s over.