Sunday, October 16, 2011

31 Days of Horror: Acacia

2003, Ki-hyeong Park (whispering corridors) -- download

Years ago at Fantasia Fest, the renowned horror & specfic film festival in Montreal, we saw his first movie Whispering Corridors.  We loved its spookiness and the chance to see how other cultures explore suspense and terror. We more enjoyed watching the elder Korean ladies sitting near us who shrieked and jumped at every scare tactic.  I will say I grinned with glee when they actually tossed popcorn in the air and one particularly starting scene.

Asian horror is a mixed bag affair. It explores elements of a culture that may not be as prevalent or even exist in our own but at the same time, they may not even have the same weight in ours. There are scares and styles that were not present in our own western horror, but with the popularity of The Grudge and the Ring movies, they have started appearing here and there. What I do like about all asian horror I have seen is that the sense of suspense is often more important than any real scare. Long scenes drawn out by grating music or discordant sounds can build up a stress where none should exist.  The jump is coming but the build up is more important.

Acacia is definitely an exploration of something not completely apparent in our culture. On the outside, it is a bad seed movie, where a young couple suspecting they cannot conceive, adopt a young boy who shows signs of being an art prodigy.  His reserved nature is expected but not his fascination with the acacia tree in their yard. The family seems to bond well with the boy but there is always the stress of him and that tree.  There is also the mother in law who thinks the whole adoption was a mistake. Adoption carries some small stigma in our culture but there seemed to have been an entirely different problem here. It is almost as if adopting shames the family.

But things begin to go really bad when the wife gets pregnant and suddenly there is a new baby in the family's life. At this point, you would think that the cute but unnerving little boy would start being a danger to the child. But no, he is nothing but an average kid who is being presented with the new feelings of being second fiddle. The actual tension seems to grow from the family truly changing directions in their own feelings for him. And thus begins the theme of the movie -- guilt, and how it affects people.

But always that tree.

In the end there is a murder and a cover up and the supernatural release comes from the tree being the tool of revenge. The tree kills off grandpa with ants and puts the mother in law in the hospital with a .. poisonous whiff of blossoms?  As things escalate we find that the family is tearing themselves apart, from the guilt of accidentally murdering the young boy and burying him beneath the tree.

It didn't do much for me.  It left me feeling flat. The kid was not really a bad seed at all and the supernatural elements of the story were more of an afterthought if not really there at all.  There was no real history as to why the kid was weird other than someone telling him his birth mother had become a tree. There were some fantastic scenes of suspense and fantastical horror but they were always imaginary. In the end we just have a story of some not so nice people killing the kid they probably shouldn't have adopted.