Acacia (2003)

Discussion in 'Asian Horror and Other Pleasures' started by UFAlien, Aug 27, 2012.

  1. UFAlien

    UFAlien New Member

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    There's a surprising lack of love for this subforum and zero mention of this film that I could find, so I figured I'd post my thoughts.

    Acacia is a 2003 South Korean film from writer/director Ki-hyeong Park, the man behind the original Whispering Corridors. Like that film, this is a slow-burn movie that's almost more of a dramatic thriller than a horror movie. Instead of the strict Korean school system, this movie uses the lens of a horror story to analyze adoption. And yes, it is, in some ways, a "scary tree" movie - but trust me, it's much better than The Happening!

    The story concerns a middle-aged couple who have been trying and failing to have a baby. When the husband suggests adopting a child, the wife is at first against the idea. But when she comes around, she settles on a six-year-old boy named Jin-Seong. He is obsessed with drawing, and she is oddly captivated by his macabre pictures - which always seem to involve a tree. Once adopted, he takes an immediate liking to the dead acacia tree in his new family's backyard, spending most of his time on or around it, trying to help heal it. However, when his new mother becomes pregnant with her own biological child, he begins to fear for his place in the family, creating tension between him and his adoptive parents.

    A series of events unfold leading up to Jin-Seong's disappearance on a rainy night. The family he left behind begins to unravel, with mother and father hurling accusations at one another as they try in vain to handle the situation. Meanwhile, Jin-Seong's beloved acacia tree comes back to life...

    The movie is structured in two distinct halves. The first half, when Jin-Seong is still around, is basically a family drama with the odd nightmare sequence thrown in to provide a quick jolt. After Jin-Seong disappears, more thriller and horror elements enter the fray as the plot works towards the climactic revelation of what exactly happened on the night he disappeared. They are strung together tonally by a constant sense of unease - the movie has a wonderful habit of making even mundane events feel OFF somehow. In the first half, much of this stems from Jin-Seong's odd behavior and his increasingly strained relationship with his new parents. In the second half, it comes from the actions of his family - and not just the overtly dramatic or scary ones. From the moment Jin-Seong disappears, their behavior is off-kilter, gently informing the viewer that not all is as simple as it seems.

    The revelation is not a huge, shocking twist like aficionados of Asian horror might be expecting - it's a conclusion that follows logically from what has come before, with very little that seems to come out of left field. There are aspects of the revelation that were different than what I expected or even somewhat surprising, but part of the strength of the movie's structure is that anyone paying decent attention to the movie will know or suspect enough of the final payoff to be wary of it and allow a nice emotional buildup, without every detail being entirely obvious. It's mostly made of gentle insinuation and suspicion. Gentle, in fact, is a good term for the movie - but not in a watered-down, shallow way. Certainly it's not a very scary film, save for perhaps a couple of mandatory shock moments. But that's not really the point - it's a sophisticated and rewarding sort of gentleness that's absorbing and otherworldly, providing an interesting and relatively unique viewing experience that sets it apart from most contemporary Asian horror.

    The production values in Acacia are excellent; far better than Whispering Corridors. The sets and locations have a dreamlike beauty and essence to them, aiding the film's tone, and the cinematography is uniformly fantastic. The music is beautiful and haunting, though it does get a bit repetitive during the climax. The editing is also well-done, aiding in both the misdirection and revelation essential to the movie's structure. The climax is brilliantly pieced-together, with current events flowing seamlessly into flashbacks in order to reveal the truth.

    Acacia is a hidden gem of sorts, and a welcome departure from the tide of similar factory-line K-horror movies in the vein of Phone. It may be a bit slow for some, and it certainly won't fill any shock or gore quotients, but it's a very well-made and effective mood piece with an interesting and rewarding method of storytelling. Highly Recommended.

    The movie is available in Region 1 DVD from Tartan. It's got a great DTS track, some middling extras, and decent video. The main problem with the disc is that the cover art and main menu screen actually use an image from one of the last shots of the movie. Because of the nature of the film itself, this doesn't entirely spoil the ending - but it is still disappointing. It should be noted, though, that the same image was also used for some of the original Korean posters.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2012
  2. booper71

    booper71 Lord of the Thighs.

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    I liked this movie back when I saw it when the dvd came out.
     
  3. Ash28M

    Ash28M Active Member

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  4. UFAlien

    UFAlien New Member

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    Really? Huh. The search function's not working on my browser, but I looked back manually to 2003 and saw nothing... guess I just missed it. Feel free to merge I guess~
     

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