It is rare for a psychological horror film to delve into taboo traditions within local cultures, especially in Asia. ‘Seire,’ a South Korean horror drama directed by Park Kang and starring Seo Hyun-woo, Ryu Abel, Shim Eun-woo, and Ko Eun-min, premiered at the Busan Film Festival in 2021 and was released on the Prime Video platform this month. Does this film bring a new exploration to the genre?

Woo-jin (Hyun-woo) and his wife are celebrating the birth of their firstborn son. His wife believes in an old tradition called ‘seire,’ which posits that the 21 days following birth are a critical period during which a baby is vulnerable to negative energy and evil spirits. The non-superstitious Woo-jin dismisses his wife’s beliefs, but since mourning his ex-girlfriend Seo-young, who committed suicide, he has been experiencing strange and delusional things. The baby becomes fussy, and his wife believes that Woo-jin has brought an evil spirit into their lives. In the midst of this, Ye-young, Seo-young’s twin sister with a strikingly similar face, emerges.

The story is compelling as it explores a local theme in South Korea, reminiscent of Javanese culture. According to this tradition, for the first 21 days after a baby’s birth, only the grandmother and parents are allowed to enter the house. If someone dies, the parents may not mourn, and amulets are placed at the entrance. ‘Seire’ brilliantly incorporates this tradition into its horror genre, creating a thin boundary between tradition and the psychological struggles of the main character.

‘Seire’ is not for the average viewer. From its packaging, it is evident that this film is meant for festival audiences with its unconventional aesthetic. The plot’s tempo is deliberately slow, often holding shots for extended durations and frequently utilizing close-ups. The narrative unfolds in a ‘nonlinear’ manner, occasionally confusing the audience in distinguishing between reality, flashbacks, and illusion. The horror is constructed through the interplay of these three segments.

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For viewers accustomed to mainstream horror films, ‘Seire’ may be tedious. Unlike most horror films, it eschews scary figures and jump scares. While some shots may provoke a jump scare, they are never executed. The film builds its horror tone through dream sequences and flashbacks, visualizing natural characters and lighting. The identical twins Seo-young and Ye-young create an unusual horror effect. In the tradition of slow-burn horror films, ‘Seire’ features a twist ending, providing surprises with an extraordinary level of horror.

‘Seire’ is not for casual viewers; it is a ‘slow burn’ horror with a strong local theme, unique aesthetic packaging, and a surprising twist. The film bears resemblance to ‘Midsommar,’ playing with audience perceptions of illusion and reality. The ending, much like ‘Midsommar,’ withholds information until the last second. Whether the consequences are a result of Woo-jin breaking taboos or simply his imagination (perhaps a mental disorder) is addressed by ‘Seire’ with a classy narrative and cinematic style. The question of whether filmmakers take sides with tradition sparks an interesting and distinct conversation. At the very least, this horror film serves as an ideal example of how closely Asian traditions and culture can resonate with our own.

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PENILAIAN KAMI
Overall
80 %
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His hobby has been watching films since childhood, and he studied film theory and history autodidactically after graduating from architectural studies. He started writing articles and reviewing films in 2006. Due to his experience, the author was drawn to become a teaching staff at the private Television and Film Academy in Yogyakarta, where he taught Film History, Introduction to Film Art, and Film Theory from 2003 to 2019. His debut film book, "Understanding Film," was published in 2008, which divides film art into narrative and cinematic elements. The second edition of the book, "Understanding Film," was published in 2018. This book has become a favorite reference for film and communication academics throughout Indonesia. He was also involved in writing the Montase Film Bulletin Compilation Book Vol. 1-3 and "30 Best Selling Indonesian Films 2012-2018." Additionally, he authored the "Horror Film Book: From Caligari to Hereditary" (2023) and "Indonesian Horror Film: Rising from the Grave" (2023). Until now, he continues to write reviews of the latest films at montasefilm.com and is actively involved in all film productions at the Montase Film Community. His short films have received high appreciation at many festivals, both local and international. Recently, his writing was included in the shortlist (top 15) of Best Film Criticism at the 2022 Indonesian Film Festival. From 2022 until now, he has also been a practitioner-lecturer for the Film Criticism and Film Theory courses at the Yogyakarta Indonesian Institute of the Arts in the Independent Practitioner Program.

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