Climbing (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Her and Her

South Korean animation film “Climbing” is a dark and unnerving psychological thriller revolving around certain kinds of female fear. While you may often scratch your head for grasping what is exactly happening to its rather unreliable heroine, the film steadily engages us as firmly pushing its story toward its eventual arrival point, and there are also several striking visual moments you will not easily forget once it is over.

The heroine of the story is a young woman who has distinguished herself as a professional sport climber, and the first act of the film quickly establishes how much she has been dedicated to her profession despite some mild disturbance in her mind at present. When she wakes up at her one-room apartment early in the morning, she is greeted by her boyfriend, and he suggests that they have a little breakfast before they leave, but she flatly refuses when she checks her weight, which does not seem to be good enough for her qualification in the upcoming competition even though she looks pretty thin and lean on the surface.

At her training gym, she promptly goes through training, and we come to gather that she has been quite pressured mainly because of a junior player who is not only younger but also may beat her someday. She keeps trying nevertheless, and she does excel herself at that competition, but she is still not satisfied with the final result of her efforts.

Anyway, the mood between her and her boyfriend becomes less strained than before as he congratulates her for her supposedly good result. Although there was an unfortunate car accident which led to her miscarriage, he is still quite willing to move their relationship to the next level, so he officially proposes to her, but she does not welcome this much as she is more occupied with a bigger competition, in which, incidentally, she and her junior are supposed to participate together.

Meanwhile, something very strange begins to disturb her life and mind. Somebody suddenly calls her at night, and that person in question calls to a smartphone she has not used since that car accident. To her bafflement and confusion, the caller turns out to be none other than herself, and it seems that the call comes from a sort of parallel world where she remains pregnant after that car accident.

The story gradually comes to alternate between the two different versions of its heroine, and that is where it becomes more disturbing than before. In case of that other world where our heroine is pregnant, everything looks fine and well on the surface as she is being taken care of by her boyfriend’s mother due to the injuries she had during that car accident, but she often feels alone and isolated mainly because her boyfriend has been constantly absent due to, according to his mother, his busy work schedule.

While you can easily guess what is being hidden from our pregnant heroine, the screenplay by director/writer Kim Hye-mi continues to catch us off guard via a series of bizarre moments, and their creepy aspects are accentuated further by the deliberately stiff animation style which is based on the mix between 2D animation drawing and 3D animation rendering. For example, the characters in the film look quite broad and simple, but that enhances the nightmarish qualities of several key scenes including the one involved with the sudden hunger experienced by the heroine at one point.

The situation keeps getting more sinister than before as it become more apparent that the two different versions of the heroine in the story are somehow linked to each other both physically and psychologically, and that leads to more confusing moments between them. The one tries to focus more on her athletic career, so frequently getting disturbed by the other’s pregnancy is the last thing she wants, and her stress is increased more when she comes to learn of something about the junior, though, considering her increasingly unstable viewpoint, you may wonder whether several things witnessed by her are real or not. In case of her parallel version, she becomes more determined to keep her baby no matter what will happen to her, and she ends up conflicting more with her other version as well as her boyfriend’s mother, who, not so surprisingly, turns out to have a nefarious purpose behind her back.

I will not go into details on how these two conflicting different narratives eventually converge in the end (This is not a spoiler at all, by the way), but I can tell you instead that the movie pulls out an effective emotional climax where everything in the story makes sense to some degree. Although this is a low-budget animation film, this is still a competent piece of work packed with enough style and mood thanks to Kim’s competent direction, and I enjoyed some little nice details including the poster of a certain recent Oscar-winning documentary film associated with sport climbing.

On the whole, “Climbing” is darkly engaging to watch in my inconsequential opinion, and it is certainly another fine South Korean animation film during recent years. Like Yeon Sang-ho’s notable animation films “The Fake” (2013) or “Seoul Station” (2016), it is willing to go for something creepy and disturbing, and I surely appreciate that.

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