Review by Sean Boelman
Fantasia is primarily known for two things: Asian cinema and horror films. Kang Park’s extraordinary feature debut Seire is the intersection of the two, a genuinely disturbing slow-burn psychological horror movie that uses an aspect of Korean culture to create something thoroughly unsettling.
The film follows a couple who, having just had a child, are observing a three-week period in which they are supposed to be careful to protect their child from bad luck, when one of them attends a funeral and brings upon them a series of unusual events. It’s an interesting, culturally specific horror movie, but one that is universal nonetheless.
This is very much a slow-burn, with almost glacial pacing for much of the first hour that will cause some viewers to check out. However, the third act pays off in a way that is very suspenseful and culminates in a final sequence that is one of the most haunting things you will see in a film all year.
Like many of the best Asian horror movies, Seire explores the idea of tradition and superstition. And while it hardly has anything new to say about the themes, it nonetheless addresses them in a way that is chilling and insightful. Although the concept of seire is one that Western audiences are unlikely to be familiar with, Park’s script manages to make it relatable.
Seo Hyun-woo and Ryu Sun-young give very strong performances in what is essentially a two-hander. Although there are other characters with smaller roles, it is the relationship between the central couple that drives much of the film, and they do an extraordinary job of carrying the domestic tension scenes.
However, perhaps even more effective are the scenes in which Seo gets to be a bit more introspective in his role. These portions of the movie are those which are the most effective at quietly creeping under your skin, and the result is a film that is much scarier than anything that is reliant on jump scares.
The movie is primarily set in the confines of a single home, and Park makes the most of this claustrophobic setting to create a feeling of unease. Many slow-burn horror movies tend to use their style as a crutch to create an atmosphere, but the atmosphere in this film is extremely natural and effective.
Despite its cultural specificity, Seire manages to be an extremely disturbing psychological horror movie. Its slow pacing will certainly be a bit too restrained for some viewers, but it’s the type of international gem that you love to discover at festivals.
Seire screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival which runs July 13 through August 3.