Door Lock

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Door Lock
"This is a film full of little observations about the sort of things that women learn to be wary of but men are often blind to." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

"It's the boyfriend's job to look after you, not the police," says one of the officers whom Kyeong-min (Gong Hyo-jin) summons for help after somebody tries to force open the door of her one room apartment whilst she's sleeping. The message is clear: if you don't have a boyfriend, you should stay in your parental home. Why should a woman expect to be as independent as a man? Kyeong-min has reported a stalker before but they don't take it seriously. Until very recently, stalking wasn't recognised as a serious offence by the Korean authorities and was legally classed as a misdemeanour, meaning that those convicted didn't even spend time in prison. Kyeong-min is told not to make a fuss.

The extent of the danger she's in is far, far greater than even she could have imagined.

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Door Lock is screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival, which last year feature Jeon Go-woon's Microhabitat, a coruscating look at the desperation created by soaring house prices in Seoul. It's a film as much about social horror as it is about one woman's experience. Kyeong-min would like to move but just hasn't been able to find anywhere affordable. She has a modest job as a bank clerk, working hard and trying not to stand out. But it's difficult for an attractive young woman to win. An unsettling altercation takes place at work when one customer decides to interpret her polite distance as arrogance, refusing to accept that he's in the wrong for asking her to go on a date with him. Is he her stalker, or just another entitled stranger?

This is a film full of little observations about the sort of things that women learn to be wary of but men are often blind to. Should she let her boss offer her a lift, or let him into her room for a drink? Is she in danger when a man rushes to jam open the doors of the elevator and squeeze inside as she rides up to her room at night? There are possible threats everywhere. Only her loyal friend Hyo-joo (Kim Ye-won) offers any help. Her exuberance lifts up the film, providing little bursts of light amid the shadows. She urges Kyeong-min to take action to try and track the stalker down - but are they bot putting themselves in further danger as a result?

Loosely based on Jaume Balagueró's 2011 thriller Sleep Tight, Door Lock takes its story in a very different direction. It strikes an impressive balance between that sense of all-pervading danger and the immediate, acute risks that its heroines face, director Kwon Lee handling both tension and suspense with consummate skill. There's a great deal packed into the 100 minute running time, with small, seemingly trivial observations proving important later on, and Park Jung-hoon's cinematography gives it a crisp, stylish look despite the griminess of most of the locations.

What really makes the film special is Gong's performance. Kyeong-min is intelligent and resourceful but she's not the kind of tough, fierce heroine that audiences have been growing used to. She's one of those women prone to freezing in dangerous situations, all flight and no fight when she can move at all. When they were all that cinema had to offer such performances were frustrating to watch, but now perhaps it's time to acknowledge that such women exist in the real world and are no less deserving of justice. Gong doesn't need toughness to make us care about her character. She gives Kyeong-min real depth and shows us the strength it takes to survive in an endlessly stressful situation.

Just last month, a video clip of a man trying to break into the home of a woman living alone in the Sillim-dong district went viral. He was subsequently identified as a repeat offender. South Korean government data suggests that one such attack takes place in the country ever day. Door Lock is a gripping thriller with some truly terrifying moments, and all the more so because it's so close to reality.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2019
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Door Lock packshot
A woman wakes up one night in her one room apartment to hear somebody trying to force open the door.

Director: Kwon Lee

Writer: Park Jung-Hee, Kwon Lee

Starring: Hyo-Jin Kong, Ye-Won Kim, Seong-oh Kim

Year: 2018

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: South Korea

Festivals:

Fantasia 2019

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