21st Udine Far East Film Festival: Door Lock Review

In a society, tightly dominated by men, is there a safe place for a woman? And what if the threat finds its way into the very hearth? Lee Kwon, who previously wrote and directed the horror-laced romantic comedy My Ordinary Love Story (2014), took on the adaptation of Jaume Balagueró’s Spanish film Sleep Tight. His and Park Jung-hee’s rendering of the story only borrows the first few sequences and then runs with them in a completely different, yet somehow parallel direction. A major change for the storyline comes with the change from a central male character to a central female character and the subsequent viewpoint switch from the predator to that of a victim, done to a chilling effect.


Photo © Megabox Plus M

The much beloved South Korean actress Gong Hyo-jin (Crush and Blush, Missing) takes on the role of Gyeong-min, a perfectly ordinary woman who works at a bank and lives alone in a studio flat where she moved not that long ago. She leads a perfectly average life – that is, until she becomes convinced that someone is trying to break into her home. The reason for that is her electronic door lock – after coming home one night, Gyeong-min notices the keypad was opened, even though she meticulously closes it every time. On that same night, someone tries to unlock the door again, banging on the doorknob with frustration when they do not succeed. Gyeong-min turns to police for help, only to learn that hallway cameras do not function and the police cannot help her until an actual incident (with proof thereof) happens.

The feeling of tension only grows when her gentle, introvert demeanor starts attracting unwanted attention from the men around her, including one of her customers at the bank who has major anger issues and the calm and collected bank manager who may be interested in becoming more than just her boss. When the dead body count actually starts, the tension does not stop, but builds into bursts of violence as something even more sinister unravels.


Photo © Megabox Plus M

Even though this is a genre-typical story that consists of a variety of cliché elements, smart editing as well as the changes to the original bring the story value to a level that Sleep Tight lacked. Gyeong-min’s male-caused struggles speak volumes about the position of women in patriarchal society, so much more so since the story is localised to South Korea, where equality of the sexes sometimes still seems like a pipe dream. Gyeong-min comes across as a textbook character of a weak, threatened female who is for the better part too scared to properly fight back. It is a testament to Gong Hyo-jin’s talent as an actress that she manages to portray Gyeong-min without making her character too annoying – though some of the story’s twists do walk that thinnest of lines between tension and irritation.


Photo © Megabox Plus M

To serve as a balance, Kim Ye-won (Tomorrow With You, Rich Man) portrays the strong-willed, outspoken, no-nonsense friend Oh Hyo-Joo, who either pushes Gyeong-min to stand up for herself or serves as an example of women who fight back (major spoiler alert: even if she herself eventually becomes a victim). In terms of casting, the perpetual baddie Kim Sung-Oh (The Merciless, The Man from Nowhere) takes on the good cop role for a change, which is brilliant to all those who are at least somewhat familiar with Korean cinema; his past roles will make the viewer subconsciously question whether he really is one of the good guys and not the mysterious perpetrator himself.


Photo © Megabox Plus M

Ultimately, the only (major) issue Door Lock has is its classification. The film has been promoted as a horror/thriller combo, which brings a set of expectations (and perhaps trepidation) to the viewers; however, they do not get fulfilled since the elements that could be seen as horror are too subdued to properly fit the genre, which can be relief to some, deflating to others, and somewhat confusing to all. In reality, Door Lock is no more and no less than a thriller – and as a thriller, it stands on solid feet.

Rating: image-2

Written by Sanja Struna

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