Attacking the basic nature of reality, Asian Horror cinema often challenges our confidence in our perceptions of it. Combining universal cultural fears with the intimate everyday anxieties of individuals living in a contemporary world not half so much as benevolent as our politicians claim, the supernatural, if utilized carefully, can evoke a sense of wonder concerning the unknown while simultaneously suggesting fearful experiences that anyone may relate to. With a flourish of shadow, the impossible becomes believable, and Asian filmmakers often showcase the horrific as easily in the comfortable surroundings of home and family as in outré Other Worlds. Family residences are often haunted by entities as fearful as those that frequent temples in the eeriest ghost stories, and hearts are every bit as vulnerable as skin. Exhibiting a searing talent for finding the dark beauty in situations of dire tragedy, and decadent splendor in the grotesque, the finer Asian films emphasize the paradoxical relationship between the physical and the ethereal.
Exposing the ineffectiveness of religious faith, science, and logic, ACACIA digs beneath the skin of the everyday, destroying our sense of security from within. A terrifying nightmare of suggestion intensified by its subtle approach, writer Sung Ki-Young and director Park Hi-Hyung have found new masks for ancient dread. Expressing psychological insecurities unique to this age through supernatural symbols that transgress boundaries of period and culture, the use of the family unit and its subsequent breakdown, lends an already disturbing occult plotline deeper emotional resonance. Nightmares of sensitively developed characters become our own. The subversive plot, themes of parental anxiety, and intimate characterizations speak to us as effectively in the symbolic language of dream.
Settled comfortably in a successful ten-year marriage, Do-il (Kim Jin-geun) and Mi-sook (Shim Hye-jin) live with only one real source of melancholy: they can’t conceive a child. Wishing to be parents, hoping this will lend greater depth to their relationship, they adopt Jin-Sung (Moon Woo-bin). Drawn to the youngster after glimpsing his unusual paintings, Mi-sook soon discovers that there is more to being a parent than dedication or love - there is also terror. Not an ordinary child, Jin-Sung is introspective and unnaturally shy. Spending most of his time beneath the ‘Acacia tree’ in the family’s backyard, away from his foster-parents, his reclusive behavior makes Mi-sook uneasy. The matter is compounded when she discovers that, against all odds, she’s now pregnant. Instead of binding Mi-sook and her husband together, this new development isolates them. And Jin-Sung, captivated by the Acacia tree, becomes even more isolated. As the once dead tree of folklore acquires new dark life (parallel to Mi-sook’s pregnancy), tragedy soon takes its toll as Do-il and Mi-sook find their love dissolving amidst a horrible supernatural revelation as painful as it shocking.
Attractively photographed and constructed with a great degree of suspense, ACACIA borrows the general unease and immediacy of the folktale (a mainstay of Asian horror) to tell a story of invasion from within, baptizing the superstitions of traditional lore in the stark waters of unfulfilled souls and troubled minds. By encouraging audiences to view both the larger world and themselves in a frightening new way and lending dread significance to aspects of everyday life that we wouldn’t normally think twice about, this fable of guilt, familial breakdown, and unnatural attachments is lyrical in its approach and simplistically effective in its thematic implications. Scary, sensitive, and thoughtful, ACACIA occupies a twilight zone between realism and fantasy. Fantasy elements are made tangible by being mirrored in the ensuing deterioration of characters. Credible acting, bizarre imagery, and dreamlike pacing establish mood and authority, layering scenes of supernatural unease with heart-breaking realism. Anchoring the more imaginative terrors of the Acacia tree in the banalities of everyday pressures, director Park Ki-Hyung unearths anxieties of relationships and the self, not only carefully designed scares. A dark entry into contemporary surrealism, the film accomplishes a mature tone, achieved through suggestion, and atmospherics generated by the building of exquisite tension.
Whereas typical supernatural stories construct a context of everyday reality that asks audiences to suspend their disbelief, by inviting believability and empathy with characters before allowing the film’s occult elements to subtly intrude, ACACIA subverts the nature of ‘reality’ from within, suggesting in an emotionally devastating plot and philosophically scathing subtext that the ghostly, the malignant and tragic supernatural element so masterfully evoked in the film, isn’t ‘outside’ of our commonly shared everyday reality at all. It is, in fact, an integral, if often unseen, element of human experience.
Special features include a full-length audio commentary, an informative cast and director documentary that provides a cultural, aesthetic atmosphere with which to better enjoy the film, a ‘Making of Featurette’ that further illuminates the creative process, a photo gallery, and the always-enjoyable Tartan Asia Extreme Trailers.
A celluloid exorcism of the emotional baggage that we carry, ACACIA invites catharsis no less than a Greek tragedy. In its darkly lit corridors of haunted hearts we’re encouraged to fear not only phantoms from the Other Side; we’re also seduced into seeing a cancerous hole in the fabric of reality itself - an idea, an emotionally felt belief - far more frightening than any ghost.
William P. Simmons
Directed By: Park ki-Hyung
South Korea / 2005 /102 Minutes
Region 1 /NSTC /Anamorphic Widescreen (16:9)