This effective slow-burn Korean chiller takes its name from the local term for the few weeks immediately following a birth. Korean superstition, we are told, dictates that in this period a newborn baby is especially vulnerable to curses, and so a family should be especially careful not do anything that might involve a portentous omen.
For the film’s protagonist, new father Woo-jin, this worrying about ‘curses’ is a silly, backward suggestion, but his wife takes it all very seriously. When Woo-jin receives a text informing him that an ex-girlfriend has passed away, and inviting him to the wake, his wife begs him not to go lest he bring back a spirit. Shrugging off her protestations, and showing signs of guilt, he attends anyway – and is confused to discover the funeral arrangements are being made by his ex’s identical twin sister, who he didn’t even know existed. Upon returning home, he tries to put his feelings of unease aside… but then dark portents start to suggest Woo-jin has made a transgression, and a punishment may be coming.
Park Kang’s feature expansion of his own 2020 short film provides a gradual ratcheting of dread, through the director’s confident, controlled orchestration of tension. The foolhardy Woo-jin becomes increasingly isolated, damaging his relationships with his wife and his neighbours, and grows unsettled by the ominous figure of his ex’s sister, while the minimalist score and sombre blue-grey tones keep things nicely threatening for the audience. Despite occasional jump-scares, this is a horror film mostly characterised by a chilly sense of impending doom – made all the more effective by keeping you guessing as to which direction that doom is going to come from, and what form it is going to take.
Comparisons can be made to everything form Rosemary’s Baby to The Wailing, but this film is more enigmatic than the former, and more stripped-back than the latter. Ultimately Seire has a quality all of its own, as slippery as a newborn baby. Highly recommended.
Seire played at the Fantasia International Film Festival on 31 July and 3 August.