Sunday, April 3, 2011

Out On a Limb: "Acacia" (2004)



The Oriental horror film explosion continues with this cross between "The Guardian" and "The Bad Seed," only ten times more scary than either film.

Obstetrician Do-il (Kim Jin-geun) and artsy wife Mi-sook (Shim Hye-jin) are happily married with Do-il's dad living with them. The problem is they are childless. While judging a child's art contest, Mi-sook is taken by some tree drawings done by Jin-sung (Moon Woo-bin). The boy is an orphan, and Mi-sook and Do-il adopt him immediately.

Jin-sung is a cute but sullen child, obsessed with the dead acacia tree in the family's backyard. Mi-sook's cruel mother immediately dislikes the child, and is thrilled when Mi-sook ends up pregnant. The baby is born but Jin-sung begins mistreating it (in a hard to watch scene involving suffocation), and the family is increasingly uncomfortable around the boy.

He makes friends with the sickly girl next door, tries to burn down his grandfather's workshop, and then disappears from the family's home. The family misses him on the one hand, but are hard pressed to contact police and do a full search on the other. Meanwhile, the acacia tree in the backyard begins blooming and strange things begin to take place around it...

Co-writer/director Park Ki-hyung has created a deeply unsettling horror film. I have not been this creeped out by a backyard tree since "Poltergeist"! The family's house is clean and beautiful, the cinematography is top notch, and Park does a simply incredible job of shooting what other directors would consider mundane scenes. One great shot has Mi-sook and an injured main character crouching by the tree. Park puts his camera above the tree, and the branches separate around the pair, framing them. Great stuff.

I was already in a "how would Hollywood remake this?" mode, so the emotional ending was a complete surprise. If Hollywood ever did remake this, that would be the first thing to go.

The cast is excellent across the board. After Jin-sung disappears, Mi-sook and Do-il's marriage collapses, as they begin to lash out at each other and blame each other for their son's disappearance. These are very well rounded characters, and the actors are perfectly cast. Little Moon Woo-bin does not show a lot of emotion as Jin-sung, and that just makes his performance even more creepy. In the behind the scenes featurette on the DVD release, Park can be heard using Spielberg-like techniques to get the reaction he needs from Moon.

"Acacia" is a bold surprise, sparse with its small cast, but big on overall creepiness. You may never climb a tree again. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie!: Acacia