director Bong Joon Ho
Rating 7,7 of 10
Score 298527 Vote
Cast Ed Harris
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Where does one start on this piece of work? Bong Joon-ho’s first film in English comes on the back of a wildly divergent back catalogue, including the sublime Madeo (Mother) the tedious crime/procedural Memories of Murder and blockbuster monster-film The Host. But I think this film may be his most divisive yet.
There is so much, seemingly, to like in this film. It’s a warped experiment in genre-production, with (very thinly veiled) political overtones—and it has the platform for a very good piece of social commentary. The production and art design are exquisite, and Bong stretches his art department in every shot, sometimes verging into the overt whimsy of Jeunet or Gilliam. And there are some really strong, extremely unusual performances, especially from Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer and a wonderful scene-stealer from Alison Pill.
But despite all of these things, I felt the film as a whole was an abject failure—and worse, it verged on the horrific. I feel perhaps the film should come to be known known as Bong’s Folly. For a while it manages to contain its misguided lunacy, but time after time the direction of the film flips in such frantically perverse ways that it started to sicken me.
Bong has juxtaposed three very distinct elements in the film: the politically-laced themes of oppression, the bizarre use of surreal humour and a shockingly graphic portrayal of violence. And he often places these elements so close together that the results are horrifying. A scene in which the main character admits to having eaten babies “because they taste the best” is portrayed with the same sense of conflicted amusement as is a truly comic scene involving the indoctrination of a school class. There’s an anarchy and unpleasantness to the film that permeates everything.
This isn’t even to mention some of the genuinely ridiculous plot-holes, or the extremely outré, implausible premise of the film itself. Despite the unpredictable changes in tone, the plot itself is remarkably pedestrian, and the twists in the storyline are tired and overused in many such genre pieces. The political commentary was clumsy as well, meaning that even if we were engaged with the style of the film, its message was slammed in our faces with the subtlety of a concrete fish.
It’s the exaggeration, the violence and the lack of restraint to this film that is its ultimate demise. This was a meretricious film that tried to engage you with its stylistic charm while it brutalised your soul with its unpleasantness. I genuinely hope I’m not the only one that feels this way.
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