A Tale of Two Sisters is a compelling horror film from Korea loosely adapted from a Korean folk tale. Ostensibly this is a disturbing psychodrama set in a haunted house about two sisters coming to terms with the death of their mother and the wicked stepmother their father has shacked up with. Beautifully directed by Ji-woon Kim this is a great horror film which keeps you guessing to the end and beyond.
The two sisters Su-mi and Su-Yeon are the main characters and the film opens with their return home from a mental hospital. They are greeted somewhat over cheerily by their stepmother whom they clearly dislike. The two girls are inseparable and Su-mi as the eldest appears to be in charge. The trouble starts on their first night back at home as strange sounds haunt the pair and someone comes into Su-yeon´s room.
The plot is complicated by the various threads including the mind games of the wicked stepmother, the potential insanity of Su-mi and the possible presence of a supernatural evil within the house. The apparently uncaring father seems incapable or unwilling to help his daughter Su-mi and so she must protect her sister herself and face up to her stepmother, challenging her cruel actions.
The direction is really excellent. Ji-woon Kim builds the tension painstakingly slowly and employs a variety of techniques to unsettle the audience. Wide shots of empty rooms in the house are reminiscent of The Shining and the disintegration of their family life is mirrored in the house as it becomes darker and more oppressive throughout the film. Kim also frequently uses movement across the frame and has someone flit out of the room just as the camera view cuts in. Some of the most tense scenes are close ups of a character´s face with the object of terror just off screen and the reveal is done via their facial expressions which is highly effective and creepy.
The strange happenings pile up as the film progresses and build toward a series of revelations which are shocking but also rather confusing. This is a film which requires more than one viewing to piece together.
Music and sound effects are used to great effect throughout. The sound is fantastic and probably cues more scares than the actual on screen action. The film is well subtitled and remains in the original Korean but this should not put you off.
The acting is top class, especially from the neurotic stepmother Eun-joo, played by Jung-ah Yum. The sad and silent father Bae Moo-hyeon is played by Kap-su Kim. The real stars of the show are the two daughters, the young Su-yeon is played by Geun-yeong Mun and the elder Su-mi is played by Su-jeong Lim, both do well bringing complex characters to life.
The slow pace of the film and the slow movement of the characters, combined with the claustrophobic feel of many of the close-up shots build a really unremitting atmosphere of terror. The film comes in at just under two hours and could probably do with being a bit shorter, it is hard to maintain the fear throughout as there is no let up in the tension and the revelations come thick and fast at the end.
A Tale of Two Sisters is clearly influenced by a range of past horror films, most notably Ring and The Grudge but these influences are never allowed to penetrate too deeply and the similarity is relatively limited. This is a great horror film, beautiful direction, great acting and a seriously twisty plot packed with tension make this a must see film for fans of the genre.