The End of April (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): As she prepares for her examination…

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South Korean film “The End of April” is a stark, gloomy psychological horror thriller which often unnerves and confounds us with a number of darkly nervous moments. While some of you may be confused about what exactly happens in the story, the movie constantly engages us thanks to its good mood and solid performances, and we are eventually left with a chilling impression as it arrives in its ambiguous ending.

In the beginning, we meet a young woman named Hyeon-jin (Park Ji-soo), who is preparing for the upcoming public servant examination. She needs a small quiet place where she can sleep or study alone, and her real estate broker shows her an old shabby apartment building which seems to have been built at least 20 years ago. Although The place does not look that ideal for her, the rent is cheap enough for her, so she decides to move into one of the apartments in the building, and we soon see her entering that apartment, which is full of barren emptiness without any furniture to notice.

While she gets accustomed to her new place, Hyeon-jin meets a few people living around her apartment, and none of them is pleasant at all. On her moving day, she comes across a couple of kids at the staircase, but neither of them responds to her much when she asks them where they live. On the next day, she meets a middle-aged woman and her daughter who live right next to her apartment, but there is something strange about them. While the woman says they will soon move out of their apartment because her husband will soon get promoted, her husband is seldom seen in the building, and their teenage daughter, named Joo-hee (Lee Bit-na), seems to suggest otherwise with her sullen attitude.

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Anyway, Hyeon-jin tries to concentrate on her study, but weird things begin to happen around her. At a small local factory where she works, she experiences a rather strange happening during one late evening, and then she gets fired for some minor mistake. Not long after she hears the sound of some squealing animal from her neighbor’s apartment, she comes across a pig walking on the corridor outside her apartment, but then it quickly vanishes from her sight, and nobody seems to see it besides her.

While it becomes apparent to us that Hyeon-jin’s agitated viewpoint is as unreliable as the heroine of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965), the movie steadily increases the level of suspense beneath the screen. When Hyeon-jin happens to encounter Joo-hee’s father in the building, she cannot help but notice a hammer in his hand, and that is one of the creepiest scenes in the film. We also meet the mother of those two kids later in the story, and her harsh silent attitude further accentuates the ominous atmosphere surrounding the building, whose interior space is always dim and shadowy without much light even during daytime.

Meanwhile, the movie pays some attention to the developing relationship between Hyeon-jin and Joo-hee. Quite unhappy about being stuck with her problematic parents, Joo-hee seems to be glad when her mother asks Hyeon-jin to spend some time with Joo-hee for her school study, but she does not fully open herself to Hyeon-jin even though Hyeon-jin shows genuine care to her, and we already know there are good reasons for that. When Joo-hee’s mother takes Joo-hee to a local dentist, we instantly sense that something is going on between the dentist and Joo-hee. There is also a very disturbing moment involved with the owner of a small local shop and her mentally handicapped son, and then there comes a shocking incident which deeply unsettles Hyeon-jin. She happened to witness something important around the time when that incident in question occurred, but can we trust what she saw?

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The most reliable character in the movie is a public servant played by Jang So-yeon, who often goes around in the neighborhood for her work. While she looks happier than Hyeon-jin and Joo-hee as living the life they would envy, she is usually stuck with lots of works to do mainly because of her recent transfer, and then there comes a trouble which exasperates her a lot. When she drops by Hyeon-jin and Joo-hee’s apartment building, which is coincidentally where she lived around 10 years ago as preparing for her public servant examination, she happens to spot that local shop owner’s mentally handicapped son doing something very suspicious, so she confronts that local shop owner for that, but then she only finds herself being chided by her direct superior for making a big fuss out of a seemingly minor misdemeanor.

I will not go into details on what will eventually happen next among these three main characters, but I can tell you instead that director/writer Kim Kang-bok steadily maintains narrative momentum till the finale and his cast members did a terrific job on the whole. Drawing our attention right from the beginning, Park Ji-soo and Lee Bit-na ably carry the film together and I think we can expect to see more from these two promising actresses in the future. As another main part of the movie, Jang So-yeon holds her own place well, and the supporting performers including Cho Gyeong-sook, Seong Min-soo, Hong Wan-pyo, Lee Hyeok, and Lee Yong-nyeo are also effective in their respective supporting roles.

By the way, I must point out that “The End of April” is not entirely without problems. It could have been considerably tightened by excising a subplot involved with a guy who becomes interested in Hyeon-jin, and some of you may be frustrated as many things in the movie are left unanswered even in the end. Nevertheless, this is still an interesting work to watch, and I can assure you that this is one of better South Korean films of this year.

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