More creepy horror from South Korea, although here the emphasis is as much on the breakdown of family relations as any supernatural elements. It is also one of that rare breed – the tree based horror film. Whilst forests and woods often provide menace or backdrop, even tree molestation in The Evil Dead, tree based horror is a touch of an oddity. The focus on the overbearing presence of an acacia tree is used as a means of wrong-footing the audience, because initially the film leads us into believing we are watching a standard "demonic kid" horror film. However, the child in question, Lee Jin-Seong, is a more complex and anxious character than a normal genre spooky child in that he is clearly psychologically scarred and has affinity with insects, a trait he shares with his beloved acacia.
Adoption is always a tricky subject in film, encompassing family melodrama and the consequent strains within. That and there’s always the possibility of ending up with a rodent (as Stuart Little’s family discovered) or a demon child instead of a treasured little angel. Tapestry genius Mi-sook and Kim Do-il have been trying to have a child for a while now; Kim and his father are keen to adopt, but Mi-sook and especially her ghastly mother want to continue trying for the natural route. But time moves on and adopt they do.
At the local orphanage one child stands out – Lee Jin-Seong (soon to be Kim Jin-Seong). Unfortunately he stands out because he is introverted, has a unique talent for drawing variations on Munch’s The Scream and seems to have
an fascination with the insect kingdom. On arriving at his new home he bonds with the little girl next door (who thinks she’s a vampire) and a wizened, grey, leafless acacia tree which he hugs and calls mother – believing it to contain the spirit of his dead parent. Soon after Jin-Seong joins the household, Choi becomes pregnant and he worries about his position, especially when overhearing his adopted grandmother’s disparaging comments about him. Jin-Seong’s behaviour becomes ever more erratic and, following an altercation, the six-year old storms off into the stormy night. In the days that follow Jin-Seong’s disappearance the remaining family unit breaks down, but the venerable acacia begins to bloom…
Acacia is a moody and, at times, astonishingly photographed film – the tree in bloom or apparently drenched in deep crimson create an indelible mark. Similarly shots of the house covered in blood-red wool, as though the art
from Choi’s loom has been all but decimated, have a surreal but powerful quality and the focussing throughout is nothing short of painterly (the opening shots in particular link the themes of art and trees in the viewer’s mind). Although sporadically horrific (and not necessarily bloody – a chilling moment comes when Kim almost casually tries to suffocate the newly-born Hea-Sung) the real horror lies with what families are capable of doing to themselves. Kim’s departure causes a breakdown as the couple fight violently and accuse each other of monstrous behaviour. The film cleverly plays with structure to maintain a foetid atmosphere and ensure a sense of mystery is maintained. For all its hooky theatrics (nods to Craven, Argento, The Shining and The Omen abound) and increasingly expressive lighting, Acacia manages to give what is essentially an inanimate lump of wood a sense of vengeful menace as the knotted roots and razor-sharp leaves begin to reveal their horrible secret.
Pitched between melodrama and the supernatural, thriller and chiller, Acacia is a visually stunning, well paced and superbly acted slow burning horror. Tartan’s disk features excellent sound and picture transfer and comes with a short selection of behind the scenes featurettes that are little more than camcorder cut ups, but do show the way director Ki-Hyung Park virtually acted every part for his cast before letting the cameras roll! Recommended for those who like family dramas but might not consider a horror film, or for horror aficionados seeking a change from the current trend for gross-out or entirely psychological scares.