Folklore is often mined by filmmakers for material. Something far more rare is the film that successfully blends an urban legend concept with crimes torn from today's headlines. The sensitive, thin line between love and hate, abuse and love are examined with shocking violence and poetic tragedy in Slit-Mouthed Woman, a film that draws scares as much from its believably depicted social context as its occult imagery. The most frightening supernatural horror film of the year, this is a daring vision of childhood abuse, insecurity, and familial nightmares. Tension is maintained throughout the lyrical yet harsh story through a careful marriage of theme and form. These elements are emphasized by believable characters, urban settings, and an atmosphere that makes the creeping anxiety and terror downright palpable. A triumph for Tartan Asia Extreme, Slit-Mouthed Woman is at once both a wonderful re-telling of childhood terrors and a painfully deft examination of a parent's worst fears.

Revolving around a young school teacher's attempts to find redemption for herself in a town where children are being abducted and murdered by a local legend, Slit-Mouthed Woman is both a tragedy and old fashioned morality tale . . . A warning. Where it excels is its symbiosis of intricate characterization and archetypal themes. Not only are the people believable and for the most part sympathetic but so are the struggles that propel them to act as they do. Real thinking has obviously gone into the crafting of these characters (and their histories), so when they react to the terrors of the unknown and dangerously real, there motivations are organic, not simply lines from plot point a to plot point b. Our heroine, an atypical young woman who has abused her own child, slave to an occasional violent reaction that makes her slap her daughter, arouses both our understanding (if not always our sympathy). Her attempts to figure our her own ruined marriage and relationship with her estranged daughter proves the perfect dramatic counterpoint to the main story of the ghostly figure who asks "Am I Beautiful?" before pulling off a mask that reveals her horribly sliced up mouth. Intimate, worldly, and socially relevant issues as child neglect, anger management, abduction, and vengeance are explored alongside -- and granted a more cosmic significance by -- the consistent presence of the occult.

The plot resembles a traditional folk tale in both theme and construction, layering carefully cultivated scares one upon the other in a natural seeming, organic manner. One can almost feel the storyteller sparking the events, wringing pain and awe from the tragedy as sordid events culminate in breath-taking nightmare. Slit-Mouthed Woman is a contemporary dark legend that, similar to its real life counterparts, reveal a glimpse of terrifying truth (both as fact and metaphor!) beneath its gruesome, oddly attractive images of brutality. Especially convincing is the integration of the occult and everyday as a murderous slit-faced phantom stalks the modern streets of a foreign city. By showing a wraith of darkest fantasy amidst the banal constraints of the 'real world,' often in broad daylight and in such recognizable locales as parks, the plot emphasizes the ability of the unknown to strike anyone, any time, any place. From the unexpectedly horrifying beginning of this perverse poem to the mean-spirited ending, the supernatural is revealed to be a central element of existence -- not so much a direct refutation as a horrid extension of normality. This makes the entire story so very more disturbing than a traditional ghost yarn, where the phantoms are often one dimensional.

Elements of Bernard Rose's Candyman come to mind during scenes where the seemingly fantastic reveal their undeniable existence, but with greater realism. Although the film shows similarities to several other popular supernatural films, it never looses its own sense of self. More importantly, the supernatural isn't used in a lacklustre "BOO!" manner so much as it is an expansion of everyday dreads and apprehensions. While the undeniably fearsome vision of 'Slit-Mouthed Woman' is awe-inspiring, easily worth the admission price, and the make-up is as masterful as any iconic horror hero of the last twenty years, it remains the fusion of the everyday and phantasmagorical that strikes this nightmare home.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Tartan Asia Extreme (USA)
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review