Difficult to categorise for a specific market Bedevilled is a drama that incorporates crime, social issues, horrific elements and terrifying consequences. It’s a mix of well constructed narrative drama with tense and shocking criticisms of modern ideals and attitudes in both major cities and withdrawn country communities. It is a fascinating and, at many times, shocking and aggressive film which always engages the viewer but also leads them into themes of warped normality or – at its most striking – horrific abuse that has generational and social backgrounds. It represents an approach to confrontational art cinema with commercial possibilities and shock engrossed marketing potential and is reminiscent of the earlier Korean art/drama/shocker The Isle but with more popularist and engaging set ups and an apparently conventional structure.
Hea-Won glimpses part of an incident involving gang sexual violation and eventually murder, which leads her to becoming a witness for the police but unfortunately the gang also notice her. The stress of Hea-Won’s job at a major bank leads to a fracas with a fellow employee and she needs a holiday, if only for a while, from the fast moving big-city Seoul. Where better that a brief return to the isolated island of Moo-do, a favourite location that she used to visit during her childhood? She knew the locals and even had a childhood friend in the shape of Bok-Nam. Bok-Nam has been writing to Hea-Won for some time and appears very pleased to be reunited with her old friend after so many years. But life on Moo-do is that of brutal male dominance, which is accepted by the generally elderly female population, dominance that sees its most obvious shape in the way that Bok-Nam is treated by the community, particularly her viscious partner who is free to couple with any woman and abuse Bok-Nam in savage and degrading ways. The more modernised Hea-Won, having sought the island to escape male dominance and socially accepted sexuality and violence, eventually decides to return home via the irregular boat service to the island and Bok-Nam is desperate to join her, along with her daughter, for whom she has a justified concern – concern that makes itself apparent in a number of increasingly shocking and irredeemable ways. There appears to be no obvious solution to their incarceration on what once seemed a paradise away from the power of the city.
Right from the start Bedevilled is a drama that draws the viewer in, relying on the relationships between the protagonists as well as exploring the way that society reacts to and influences the characters’ attitudes and actions. It evolves from a commentary on stressful city life into an isolated community based thriller that engages the viewer not just in the fate of the characters but the wider societal concerns. Desire and need for revenge, as a vital revolt against sexual violation, makes the progression of the story tense and unexpected but, in some ways, horribly necessary. Bedevilled features scenes that are deeply disturbing, visually and morally, but these also help explain the characters’ actions and are important in addressing Bok-Nam’s appalling situation and the community’s inability to realise its hypocrisy. Although aspects could be related in principle to I Spit On Your Grave (1978), Bedevilled is set more like a political and character based drama than a run up to the video nasty era, although it never balks from addressing appalling issues or depicting visceral scenes of bloody violence.
Engaging and thoughtful, Bedevilled is a thrilling revenge drama that is compelling and at times shockingly confrontational. Essential viewing but horror fans be warned – it is not a horror film, and art cinema goers – prepare to be fascinated but be aware of horrific scenes.