Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spider Forest (2004)

Kang Min finds himself alone in a dark forest, and makes his way to an isolated cabin where he finds the mutilated corpse of a man as well as Su-Young, his girlfriend, who is afraid and dying and whispering about spiders. He spots the killer and chases him through the forest, but is ambushed by the man and bludgeoned into unconsciousness. When he awakes, groggy and unstable, he stumbles after the killer into a tunnel but is struck by a speeding SUV and is badly injured. The killer approaches, but Min lapses into unconsciousness.

After fourteen days in a coma, Min awakes with a severe head injury and finds that he is a murder suspect. The investigating officer, Choi, happens to be a friend and wants to believe in his innocence, so Min tells him the story of what happened. It turns out that he had been in a village near Spider Forest getting an interview from camera shop owner Min Su-jin for the television show he produces, Mystery Theatre. The story takes in much of Min's life story, from the disturbing events of a childhood friendship to the death of his wife in a plane crash, his relationship with Su-Young and his antagonistic relationship with his sleazy boss. It also reveals the mystical, folkloric nature of Spider Forest and Min's forgotten connection to it.

With its non-linear narrative, amnesiac protagonist, supernatural overtones and confusion between dream and memory, Spider Forest deliberately obscures what is real and what is imagined. It borrows a number of elements from David Lynch's movies Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive - explicitly referencing the latter on at least one occasion - but to rather different effect. What starts as a genuinely creepy horror movie metamorphoses into a melancholy and ultimately tragic character study as Min and Choi (as well as the viewer) piece together what actually lead up to the opening scenes. The ghosts of Spider Forest are real, but not all ghosts are threatening.

Although at times a very violent movie with some very bloody imagery, Spider Forest is a low-key and serious movie that feels very personal. It's an exploration of guilt and denial and of the stories we tell ourselves to explain who we are. Min's emotional pain is externalized again and again; for example in the scene where he drunkenly breaks the glass he's drinking from against his mouth, and it's no accident that the scar on his head from the car accident is shaped like a scythe.

Some people will be very disappointed by this movie because it really doesn't conform to the expectations we've come to have from horror movies or from Korean movies; others will be frustrated by its refusal to explain itself. I loved the depressed tone of the film and its ambiguity. I guessed the denoument early on, but although you might think this means that the movie is predictable, in fact it kept surprising me throughout. There is a lot going on here and you really can't just sit back and let it wash over your. Writer/director Song Il-gon expects the audience to be an active participant. If you bring your full attention to Spider Forest, you should find yourself rewarded.


  1. Nice review for a great film. Korea has been making some of the best horror/thrillers in recent years.

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