SEIRE, playing at the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival, is part psychological and part supernatural horror with a question mark. Written and directed by Park Kang, the story is about new father Woojin’s (Seo Hyun-Woo) unraveling. Seire is 21 days after the baby is born when the parents must be careful with what they do, and where they go, and not allow outsiders near to prevent bad luck. The suspense and disconcerting sound effects combine with Woojin’s uncertainty of what is real to make SEIRE a compelling view.
Woojin struggles from the beginning of the picture. He sees his wife, Hae-Mi (Sim Eun-Woo) one moment; then his ex-girlfriend Se-young (Ryu A-bel) the next. He does not know if he is dreaming, recalling the past, or simply hallucinating, which presents a challenge to the audience. Most of our point of view is through Woojin. He is a new father but rarely smiles, looking somber through most of the film. When he cuts apples in his apartment, the apples are all rotten at their core. Something is amiss before he learns of his ex-girlfriend’s death.
Strange occurrences pile on when Woojin attends a funeral for his ex-girlfriend, despite his wife’s warnings. He speaks with Se-young’s twin sister, Ye-young (Ryu A-bel). During their conversation, it appears Se-young possesses her, but since Woojin is an unreliable character, it is uncertain what is real. But as he attends the funeral, the situation at home gets strange. The protective rope his wife hung at the entrance of their apartment falls to the floor. The fire on the stove increases and burns a hole in the baby bottle.
Despite experiencing strange things, Woojin does not believe anything paranormal is going on. The creepiest moment is when he walks into the building to his apartment. Automated lights turn on at the entrance, then off as he passes. But a moment later, it turns on as though someone else walked in and is now behind him. I will never want automated lights because that is terrifying, like watching a cat stare in an empty room and back away.
There is a lot of silence throughout SEIRE. It sits heavy, like an oppressive burden. When sound effects do come in, it is a cringe quality that adds to the discomfort. The directing and constant use of dim lighting or shadows builds a tension that is never fulfilled. Woojin is not a villain, but he does not seem to be a good person. Innately selfish, Woojin often leaves childcare to his wife. He also forgets things like getting formula, not realizing why this is an issue. You remember what you prioritize, you forget what you do not.
Parts of the film remain unexplained, leaving it to the viewers to decide what happened. But Woojin did not want to be a father when he was with Se-young and still does not want to be. The rotten apples and the hallucinations feel like a projection of his guilt towards Se-young’s miscarriage. It is not clear if he intentionally caused it. The rotten core of apples represents how Woojin feels and their family. That is also why apples in his brother-in-law’s apartment are not rotten. That man is excited to be a father and the relationship between him and his wife is loving.
SEIRE is a slow burn, but I am not sure the payoff is worth it in the end. It is good, but there is too much left unresolved and the ending was not surprising. But the film is worth a watch thanks to the direction, acting, and creepy sounds. I wish they leaned heavier into horror since everything about the film’s directing, lighting and cinematography screams horror and suspense. I am excited to see what Park Kang makes in the future. Please let it be terrifying.