Seire (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Haunted by his ex-girlfriend

South Korean film “Seire” is a little disturbing psychological drama mainly driven by its flawed ordinary hero’s increasingly unstable mind. As his mind is burdened by more anxiety and guilty along the story, you may often wonder how reliable his disturbed viewpoint really is, but the movie keeps holding our attention mainly thanks to its moody atmosphere and a palpable sense of implosion behind its hero’s dull appearance.

The title of the movie refers to 21 days associated with a certain South Korean folk superstition. Once a baby is born, the baby’s family are supposed to take utmost care during this 3-week period, and they especially cannot allow any stranger into their home for protecting the baby from bad luck. I heard that some people still stick to this superstition even in these days, and I guess this is actually reasonable because newborn babies should be isolated from the outside for a while considering their fragile immune system.

In case of the wife of Woo-jin (Seo Hyun-woo), she and her family really believe this superstition, and that is why she is not so pleased as all when Woo-jin suddenly receives a text message on the last day of that 3-week period for their newborn baby. An old female friend of his recently died, and he is requested to attend her upcoming funeral, so he soon goes there without telling much to his wife, who incidentally does not want him to go there due to the possible potential of any bad luck.

At the funeral of that female friend of his, Woo-jin comes across her twin sister Se-young (Ryu Abel), who is mostly courteous to Woo-jin but seems to know about some old history between her dead sister and Woo-jin. As Woo-jin and his other old friends have a private conversation later, we come to gather that Woo-jin was once the boyfriend of Se-young’s dead sister – and that he eventually left her due to some unspecified reason not long before marrying his wife.

We sense something wrong after Woo-jin returns from the funeral. There is a little creepy moment involved with the light bulb of the front gate of his apartment building, and that is just the beginning of a series of eerie moments experienced by him. He keeps dreaming about Se-young’s sister, and he is so disturbed in his mind that he often finds himself confused and baffled between reality and dream. What really happened between him and his ex-girlfriend? Why does he keep dreaming about apples rotten to core? Is it actually possible that he inadvertently got himself attached with the ghost of his ex-girlfriend and then took the ghost to his home and his newborn baby?

Balancing itself well among growing questions and mysteries along the story, the movie patiently accumulates more creepiness around its hero instead of resorting to cheap scary moments. While the screen is constantly shrouded in a considerable amount of moodiness, we are served with several subtly tense scenes, and we come to sense more of emotional undercurrents beneath the surface even though we are not so sure about what is actually happening around Woo-jin.

Meanwhile, we can clearly see how Woo-jin’s disturbed state of mind gradually affects his daily life in one way or another. It does not take much time for his wife to discern that her husband does not tell everything from the beginning, and she becomes all the more furious after a close family member of hers, who is living with her husband right next to Woo-jin’s apartment, happens to have one very terrible day.

As his wife becomes much more anxious about whatever may happen to their baby, Woo-jin feels more distant to his wife with more confusion and helplessness. Later in the story, he is asked to be around Se-young during the last day of her sister’s funeral period, and he does not refuse to do that at all even though being more aware of the dark possibilities surrounding him. He eventually ends up spending the night along with Se-young without anyone around them, and we can only wonder how much of this sequence is actually imagined by his deeply troubled mind. Is Se-young really possessed by the ghost of her sister at one point? And how can we interpret a certain creepy moment between Woo-jin and the body of her sister?

All I can say for now is that I admire how director/writer Park Kang skillfully dials up and down the level of tension along the solid emotional narrative of his screenplay, and I also appreciate the good performances from his few main cast members. Without any unnecessary moment of overacting, Seo Hyun-woo ably conveys to us his character’s gradual mental conflict, and that is why a certain ambiguous key scene of his around the end of the story works well with enough emotional intensity. Around him, Shim Eun-woo and Ryu Abel are well-cast in their respective crucial supporting roles, and Ryu has some chilly fun with going back and forth between her dual part.

Overall, “Seire” is an effective genre piece which deserves some praise for mood, storytelling, and performance, and its several effective moments grow more on me as I am reflecting more on them at present. He thinks he is through with the past, but the past is not through with him at all, and he surely gets a hard lesson in the end.

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