Fairy tales don't come much more Grimm than terrifying Korean horror movie A Tale Of Two Sisters, in which childhood nightmares spill into the adult world. The two sisters are Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) and Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young), who return home from hospital after recuperating from some mysterious illness and find themselves at odds with their wicked stepmother (Eun-Joo). She wants to play happy families, but the girls are desperate to expose her evilness to their father and free the house from her deadly spell.
Nothing is what it seems in this bewildering journey through the looking glass of adolescence as A Tale Of Two Sisters presents us with a conundrum of head-scratching proportions. Are the girls mad, or is their stepmother really evil? Is the house haunted, or are they just imagining the freakish occurrences we see?
"CRAWLS UNDER YOUR SKIN AND DIGS IN DEEP"
Skirting around the strangeness of feminine adolescence (the girls have their periods on the same day; a ghostly hand suddenly emerges between Su-yeon's legs), Kim Jee-woon builds the story into a fraught fairy tale peppered with more jumps than the Grand National and infused with a dark and deadly sense of dread that crawls under your skin and digs in deep.
Set in a labyrinthine house full of dark corners and distinct shortage of 100-watt bulbs, it's spectacularly nerve-jangling storytelling - something encouraged by the disorientating plot that slowly spins out of control. A dinner party goes disastrously wrong as projectile vomiting, epileptic fits, and a guest who claims they've seen a ghostly little girl hiding under the sink upset the table; a bloody sack is dragged around the wooden hallways by an unseen hand; and, perhaps most bizarrely of all, the girls' dad (Kim Kab-su) doesn't seem to notice that anything's wrong.
A fractured nightmare in a damaged brain, this hauntingly neurotic film delivers the kind of psychological horror that American cinema forgot about decades ago. Dark, dreadful, and utterly disturbing, it's a remarkable modern fairy story.
In Korean with English subtitles.