This is not an easily understood film. Only those who enjoy the ambiguity of complex storytelling will reap the aesthetic and intellectual pleasures hidden within the retrospective heart of this thriller. A drama of the mind, this noir-like mingling of dark enchantment and mystery challenges the intellect. Director Song Il-Gon demands that we sacrifice our dependence on linear storytelling and sequential progression for a multi-faceted plot whose fragmented structure mirrors the turmoil of a disturbed mind. As creepy as it is complex, this film haunts on several levels, not the least of which is the intellect, challenging our pre-conceptions of normalcy, personal responsibility, and the secret language of nightmares -- a language we speak softly in the dark.

In a plot where nothing is as it seems and logic is a lost echo of thought, Kang (Gam Woo-sung) discovers a murdered man and woman in a remote cabin. Chased by a stranger, he is finally ran over by an automobile. Waking from surgery, his memories of these events are hazy phantoms, refusing to be wrestled into his conscious. Kang becomes a sleuth (similar to the traditional plot-movements of a Giallo or Hitchcock thriller) and investigates what happened to him. This process of discovery and remembrance is a suitable way in which to complicate and lend texture to the story, allowing the audience to take an active part in the solving of a mystery at once horrid and innovative. When his search leads him to two mysterious women, he finds that the ghosts of his memory are intimately connected to the corpse of the woman he found murdered, Su-Young (Kang Kyeong-heon). Will the enigmatic Min Su-jin (Jung Suh), a photo developer near the legend-haunted "spider forest," be his salvation or just one further screw into his coffin?

Defying the logic by which we are encouraged to define the world around us from birth, Spider Forest exchanges realism for the meaning inherent in dreams, where despite surface contradictions of logic and believability a strange hybrid of sense is established with the poetic symbolism of dreams. In this the film is similar to the Expressionistic theater so popular at the turn of the century and the decadent symbolisms of Kakfa's fiction, evoking fear and wonder by challenging the dependability of the world and, worse yet, the dependability of our own senses. From The Epic Of Gilgamesh, the very first written piece of Literature known to mankind, the forest has symbolized a contradictory sense of fear and fascination, liberation and loss. Symbolizing our wild impulses and animalistic nature as well as dangers of flesh, mind and soul, the woods also embody motifs of the heroic journey, labyrinth symbolism, and, more importantly, play a pivotal role in the folklore from which all stories stem. In Spider Forest this ancient symbolism (and the emotional/cultural associations it represents) is not only continued in grand storytelling tradition, it's refined, made into an archetypal nightmare both timely and timelessness.

No less a character than the living, breathing personas who struggle for understanding and survival in this extremely dark Faerie tale for adults, the 'spider forest' is host to hundreds of spiders, all of which represent a lost soul who has been forgotten by the world. Confusing the boundaries between dreams and reality, self and the external dimensions, Spider Forest is, among other things, the story of a man unsure if what he is experiencing is realistic or an illusion -- a symbol of humankind's dependence on perception. Similar to the frightening, intelligent fiction of such authors as Arthur Machen, the climax of this chilling plot isn't the focal point of this story. Rather, the journey itself is all that's truly important. While this will undoubtedly enrage folks expecting a gory, quickly told, transparent film of flash and flesh, those searching for a moving experience, and questions of cosmic resonance, will be rewarded for their patience (and repeated viewings!).

A hybrid of various genres and cinematic traditions, Spider Forest is a horror story, it is also a romance, a tale of detection, an art house experiment, and a refutation of genre. At heart it's a surrealistic study of questions that, finally, have no answer, being beyond our finite knowledge. Offering thrills and more than its share of scares, the movie's subtext disturbs on several levels. Moments of heart-stopping terror are evoked in psychic borderlands -- level of consciousness between the real and unreal. Perhaps the film's greatest achievement is its refusal to adapt any one position. There are no easy answers in this film, no absolutes. There is only fear and awe -- exactly as there should be in a film that finds dark miracles in the crippled hearts of crippled consciousness.

Tartan's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is quite satisfactory. Despite some small amount of grain, the picture is in fine shape, with bold, pleasing colors. Foreground and background are finely detailed, and actor's skin correctly hued with earthy flesh tones. Audio is professionally developed, offered in Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound with optional subtitles. Soundtrack and dialogue are well mixed and vibrant, while the subs themselves are easy to read.

Among the engaging extras are a montage of behind-the-scenes in a 'Making Of' featurette that is both intelligent and an example of flashy self promotion. While engaging, some further context would have been appreciated. Interviews with cast and crew follow, exploring the themes and several stories behind the story. While informative, these don't dig very deep into either the technical or thematic depths of this complex story. Deleted scenes are next. While thoughtful, lending further context to the film, they do little to enhance the story directly. A theatrical trailer and spots for other Asia Extreme titles follow, as well as a decent photo gallery. While Asia Extreme should have surrounded this challenging, evocative feature with extras worthy of its disturbing atmosphere and philosophical depth, the package, as stands, is well worth its cost.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Tartan Asia Extreme
Region 1 NTSC
Not Rated
Extras : see main review