Spider Forest (2004)

The Korean horror movie Spider Forest is like the first few moments waking up from a dream. You’re still arrested by the urgency of what you dreamt, so for a while you try your hardest to remember, to really concentrate, but to concentrate hard necessarily means you must be more conscious. The harder you think, the further your dream slips away.  It’s difficult to stay balanced in that threshold between sleep and consciousness.  Still, you can’t help but feel that there was something to the dream that you should remember. Something important.

It’s one thing to purposefully forget something, but another to try to remember what you’ve already forgotten. Where do you begin? Somewhere in your mind let’s say all the answers are there—the details of everything that’s ever happened in your life. This is not how most of us remember, though. We don’t remember along the lines of chronology or, as much as some would like to believe, objectivity. Our memories are neither in order nor very accurate. They’re very accurate in only one way: in revealing the kind of narratives we tell to make sense of our lives. Through the kind of remembering we do, we’re telling a story about how we see ourselves and the world around us.
 Spider Forest creepy scene
So what happens when the carefully-woven fabric of your memories begins to fray? Self-destruction? Or maybe the beginning of a horror film.

Spider Forest
is about a man who wakes up in the hospital after finding his girlfriend murdered. He spotted the murderer and gave chase, only to be run over by a car and suffer a major head injury. Awake again, he has to piece together what happened that night—and why. Who would do this to his girlfriend? Who has been calling him up the past few months to give him unsettling and cryptic messages over the phone?
 Spider forest screenshot

There’s not much more I can say about the film without giving the most important revelations away. It deals with dark things that lurk in the mind. It is more devastating than terrifying. It’s not about monsters who will hunt you while you sleep, but the monstrosity of being unable to escape your own ignorance, trauma and folly. Spider Forest is as unanchored by time and space as dreams are, but in its own strange way the movie manages to make sense. There are likely multiple ways of reading the ending, but I saw it as a hopeless one. The last scene cements the protagonist’s doom—-but the audience’s real horror comes from realizing that the protagonist himself doesn’t yet know how alone and trapped he is.

Spider Forest, Korean horror movie

Like Memento (2000), the investigation that forms the plot of this film is made more desperate by the fact that the protagonist is investigating himself, his own recent past. Some of the revelations are chilling, while others tragic. In one scene, long after we’ve found out that the protagonist was once married, only for his wife to die in a plane crash, he admits to someone after waking up from a dream that what he’s saddest about–what he just can’t get past–is that on his way back from seeing her off at the airport, he realized at last that he wanted a child with her. A child she had wanted very much. The guilt and permanence of what he didn’t get to tell her is still eating away at him. It’s a small moment, but it adds to the texture of what characterizes this man and his psychological trauma. This Korean horror film never dismisses the incoherent things we see in our dreams, but rather seems to say that it’s in this muddled incoherence we discover some hidden gem of truth about ourselves.

Spider Forest hospital scene
Subtle, mournful, sometimes brutal and sometimes sweet, this film is a harrowing journey through one man’s mind. Not even Freddy Krueger wants to enter his dreams.

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

A Tale of Two Sisters is arguably one of the most famous Korean horror movies to date. It’s a film by Kim Jee Woon, director of movies like I Saw The Devil (2010) and A Bittersweet Life (2005). He’s one of the trifecta of Korean directors who enjoy both immense popularity and critical ardor–so maybe this is preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, I have to revisit and recommend this film in time for Halloween. No series about Korean horror can be complete without it. It’s a film that becomes better, more profoundly sorrowful, when you already know where the ghosts are.

A Tale of Two SistersSu Mi, the elder of the eponymous sisters, is haunted by the ghost of regret. While the original Korean folktale that the film is based on is a morality story where the bad people get their just desserts in the end, A Tale of Two Sisters is focused on the psychology of innocence lost. I’m not talking so much about naiveté, but of being innocent of feeling the kind of consuming guilt and resentment that Su Mi feels. The two sisters are close and sweet with one another, have only each other to depend on. When they are together they can be young and carefree and not think of anger or fear or any of their other wounds. But being happy with each other is only a small fragment of their lives now. The truth is that life for them is no longer carefree at all. Their mother is dead, in her place a new woman they’re supposed to treat like family. All the while the father remains passive, perhaps even intentionally oblivious. Their family has been torn asunder. And there is no going back.

A Tale of Two Sisters screenshotThe horrible truth about their family lurks in the very walls of their house. The house is dark and labyrinthine, the walls covered in florid floral wallpaper—creeping, tangled flowers and vines that visually denote the twisted and complicated setting. The home is the site of their trauma, after all. The film works as a horror piece because these characters feel they have failed that most important duty: the duty to be a true and whole family. In a society where divorce and remarriage is still talked about in scandalized whispers, the premise alone sets the mournful tone. The idea of the sprawling Korean family, with happy parents and grandparents, children, aunts and uncles all under one roof, is shown here to be a mocking myth. The modern family is confused and alienated.

A Tale of Two Sisters, one of the best Korean horror moviesWhat makes A Tale of Two Sisters so singular is how its melancholic mood is transferred so wordlessly, so effortlessly, from screen to viewer. The music, more mournful than creepy, the mise-en-scene, the quiet expressiveness of the actors, all add to the overwhelming feeling that the roots of what has disturbed this family run deeper than we can really fathom. The unceasing mood builds up to an end that makes you not gasp, but heave a heavy sigh.

A Tale of Two Sisters, washing handsThe movie’s first scene begins with the image of someone carefully washing his hands. This is the image that repeats itself, in one way or another, throughout the film; the idea of trying to wash yourself free of the sins you think you’ve committed. But for Su Mi’s family, there isn’t enough water in the world for it.

What did you think of our list of must see Korean Horror Movies for October? We hope you have a festive Halloween to our readers around the world!

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About The Author

Whizy Kim

Whizy Kim moved from NYC to Seoul to hike mountains and own a Jindo dog. You can find more of her film writing at themagiclanternshow.tumblr.com.