South Korean film “Door Lock” terrified me more than I expected. When I saw its poster and synopsis a few weeks ago, I thought it was just another woman-in-danger movie, but then I heard some good words from others, and now I am glad to report to you that it is a competent genre piece which is also one of better South Korean films of this year.
During the early part of the movie, we observe the mundane daily life of Kyeong-min (Gong Hyo-jin), a young woman who has worked as a bank employee somewhere in Seoul. We see her starting another usual day in her one-room apartment which is located inside a big building containing many other one-room apartments just like hers. We see her working at the bank along with other employees including her close friend Hyo-joo (Kim Ye-won). And we see her going back to her one-room apartment after her worktime is over.
So far, everything seems fine and normal on the surface, but Kyeong-min notices small but strange things happening around her. When she locks the door of her one-room apartment before going to the bank in the morning, she happens to spot something which suggests that somebody touched the door lock at last night. While not so alarmed by that, she changes the password of the door lock just in case, but she hears someone attempting to unlock and open the door outside when she is about to sleep at night, and that certainly scares her a lot.
Once she sees that there is not anyone behind the door, Kyeong-min calls the police like any sensible person would do under her situation, but the police officers coming to her one-room apartment casually disregard her because they think it is merely a trivial case of minor disturbance, and they do not even pay attention to what may be an important evidence. While getting quite frustrated about this, she tries to keep going on as usual at her workplace, but she often feels like not having a good sleep at night, and that bad feeling does not go away at all even when she receives a good news on her promotion.
Around that narrative point, the movie slowly begins to reveal more of a creepy and insidious menace approaching to Kyeong-min. If you are a seasoned moviegoer like me, you may easily discern the identity of the mysterious figure preying on Kyeong-min, but the movie keeps holding our attention via its taut, efficient storytelling and increasingly unnerving mood. While not hiding at all from the beginning that something terrible is going to happen to its heroine, it gradually dials up the level of suspense along its plot, and there are several effective moments including a certain scene which looks quite mundane at first but is later developed into one of the most disturbing moments in the film.
The movie also makes a sharp point on how vulnerable Kyeong-min is as a woman living in the South Korean society, which is usually not very kind to women to say the least. When she is verbally harassed by some rude guy at the bank, there is nothing she can do except maintaining her composure until her male boss intervenes and forcefully handles this difficult circumstance, and she subsequently has another unpleasant experience which will make you wince for a good reason. As things get worsened for her especially after a certain incident, she becomes more desperate than before, but she still does not get much help from the police, who finally start the investigation but still treat her unfairly as before. As a matter of fact, a cop assigned to her case regards her with doubt and suspicion from the start, and Kyeong-min cannot help but feel more exasperated than before while worrying more about that unseen menace lurking somewhere around her.
As Kyeong-min tries to deal with her disturbing situation as much as she can, the screenplay by director Lee Kwon and his co-writer Park Jeong-hee, which is based on Spanish thriller film “Sleep Tight” (2011), pushes its heroine into more fear and dread as demanded. There is a brief but tense scene where she cannot help but feel nervous as being alone with a male stranger in an elevator, and her growing panic feels palpable on the screen as the camera firmly focuses on her troubled face. In case of one sequence where she and Hyo-joo follow a certain person, the movie patiently accumulates the sense of danger step and step, and we come to brace ourselves for what may happen next.
As the center of the movie, Gong Hyo-jin, who was hysterically funny in “Crush and Blush” (2008), give a strong performance which functions as an emotional anchor we can hold onto. While Kyeong-min is indeed your average horror thriller heroine to be terrorized a lot throughout her story, the movie presents her as an engaging human character we can care about, and Gong did a good job of imbuing her character with considerable life and personality, while also supported well by the other notable performers in the film including Kim Sung-oh, Jo Bok-rea, Lee Ga-sub, Lee Chun-hee, and Kim Ye-won, who surely lightens the mood at times as Kyeong-min’s loyal friend.
On the whole, “Door Lock” did its job as well as intended, and it scared and entertained me enough when I watched it along with my father and a few other audiences during this Sunday morning. After I and my father walked out of the screening room, we talked a bit about the movie, and we agreed on how chillingly it often reflects the harsh reality of many South Korean women out there. If they see the movie, they will probably see themselves from its heroine, and they may be a lot more scared than me because of that.