Friday, April 5, 2024

Broken and Vengeful: Bedevilled (2010)

Bedevilled (Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal) (South Korea, 2010)
Rating: ****1/2
Starring: Seo Yeong-hie, Ji Seong-won, Min-ho Hwang

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.

Hoping to escape the busy bustle of Seoul's big city life, as well as the troubles that come with it like a stressful office environment and being a witness of an assault, Hae-won decided to take a week long vacation at her home island, Moo-do, and spend some time with her childhood friend, Bok-nam, who have been writing letters to her. Little does she know, however, are the daily horrors Bok-nam suffer at the hands of the few remaining islanders living there as not only is she berated and shunned by the island women for not meeting their outdated norms of a dutiful and loyal wife, but she also physically and sexually abused by her brutish spouse and sleazy brother-in-law. Her only respite to all of her suffering is her daughter Yeon-hee and the fleeting chance of escaping her hellish island life to Seoul. A chance that might finally be at reach with Hae-won's arrival and help.

Unfortunately, despite Bok-nam's pleas and horrifying suspicions that Yeon-hee is being groomed by her own father, Hae-won turns a blind eye to the request, leading to Bok-nam taking matters at her own hands and attempt to leave the island with her daughter on her own. This only leads to a harrowing loss that finally breaks Bok-nam and, with Hae-won further refusing to help with the matter and the islanders' continuing maltreatment, a sickle is wielded and everyone will feel the wrath of a woman forever scorned...

Bedevilled (2010) is, without a doubt, one of the hardest movies for me to watch and I say that as a compliment to just how well it works not only a revenge-driven psychological slasher, but as a movie in general; for the first hour, it explores the extent of cruelty upon an undeserving party and the consequences of being a bystander, having us uncomfortably witness the full brunt of the abuse Bok-nam endures day by day, a matter that's actually encouraged by the aging island women whose mindsets are still stuck in the old gender norms of men being respected despite the stones they throw upon their spouses, and that a woman's job is only to be loyal to their husbands and do nothing but provide and serve. The film reaches to an extent that it brews a boiling sense of outrage from its audience, even more so when the film presented more than one chances for Bok-nam to be free of her horrible mistreatment, only for it to be swept away by hushed tongues, blind eyes and lies. It's a different kind of horror, one that hits a brand of realism all too well thanks Seo Yeong-hie's outstandingly heart-rending role and performance as the victim of all of these horrible deeds, and too the fact that despite Hae-won being presented as the main character of the plot, the direction and focus are mostly centered around Bok-nam's grueling hardships, making it quite easy to develop our sympathies for her plight.

Eventually, it all has to reach a breaking point and, after one irreversible act of violence, Bedevilled (2010) dives into a cathartic revenge-fueled murder spree as the islanders meet the bladed point of a sickle one by one. Necks hacked, heads decapitated, guts knifed, it's all as satisfying as it can get, a deserving pay-off filled with good gore, savage bloodletting and harrowing intensity after watching these villains haughtily justify their assault and persecutions for the longest time, reducing them to victims begging for their lives once the tables finally turn against them. And yet, in the midst of this eye-for-and-eye retribution play, there's an underlying feeling of misery and heartache as the film subtly reminds us that it didn't have to come to this bloodshed. There's no smile in Bok-nam's face as she murders these people. No quips. No fanfare. Just a stoic face, a broken spirit and pure methodic deaths that could have been prevented when the right people stepped in, a graze of complexity that has this bodycount achieving more in depth than just your regular horror film kill streak.

The final act is where Bedevilled (2010) works its emotionally-scarring character study into your typical slasher flick showdown as Hae-won sees herself trapped in a police station, the only officer there seemingly murdered, with a very maddened Bok-nam waiting there to finish what she started. It's the usual trappings of chase sequences, blows traded and a crazily gory last kill, but it's still punctuated with an emotional dour mood that's in line with the movie's cathartic development, ending on a bittersweet yet still devastating note that touches on the melancholic.

Admittedly, Bedevilled (2010) is not a movie for everyone. The brutality of the abuse shown can come to a point where it feels uncalled for, or at least have one welding a strong constitution to sit and bear it. At the end of it all, though, the promised conclusion is one to deliver and remember. One that rewards your patience and rage with a rush of psychological release through bloody sickle kills upon those who deserves it. If you think you're up to it, then see this unsung revenge masterpiece!

1 female murdered offscreen
1 girl lands head-first on a rock
1 female hacked on the neck with a sickle
1 female hacked on the back of the head with a sickle
1 female hacked with a sickle
1 elderly female jumped off a cliff and landed on rocks
1 male decapitated with a sickle
1 male gutted with a knife, hacked to death with a sickle
1 male shredded through a boat propeller 
1 male bashed to death with a sledgehammer
1 female repeatedly shot, stabbed in the throat with a recorder flute
Total: 11

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