End Of Animal

End Of Animal


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

A cab taking pregnant student Soon-young (Lee Min-ji) from Seoul to Taeryung stops en route to pick up an unprepossessing young man in a blue puffer jacket and red baseball cap.

The man declares ominously, "275 seconds to go", before revealing that he has no money or credit card to pay the driver, and divining, then and there, intimate details of his fellow travelers' lives. He reveals that the driver, a sensitive Catholic man, has struggled to keep his estranged wife from divorcing him after being caught having sex with an underage girl, while Soon-young is a timid pushover of a woman whose boyfriend has walked out on her. The man also hints that he has met Soon-young before, saying: "I told you to stay home, didn't I?"

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Then, his clairvoyant powers established, the mysterious man nears the end of his countdown, warning his companions, "Meeting people won't be very much help - just stay in the cab", and predicting that in a few seconds, all electricity will cut out, and "the angels will descend, white with huge fangs and claws".

Soon-young awakens alone in the cab. The engine has stopped, and her cell phone no longer works. So, in defiance of the stranger's advice, she sets off into the bleak countryside looking for help. On the way she will encounter other lost souls whose apparent ordinariness conceals deep-seated greed, lust and violent hostility. Meanwhile, the man, though absent, keeps contacting Soon-young via the taxi's portable radio ("this is like – a way of prayer – just for you and me"), trying to keep her from straying into trouble. "I see everything," he will later tell her, adding, "You're a bit slow at times. Do you really not know who I am?".

By now, most viewers will long since have guessed the stranger's identity - for what Jo Sung-hee's feature debut presents to us is the Second Coming and Revelations all rolled into one. Yet where Hollywood blockbusters like Meteor, Independence Day, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 have exploited eschatology for grand cinematic spectacle, here the end of days is reduced to a personal, and altogether more banal, scale. This is an intimate apocalypse, shot at ground level with a handheld camera and focused entirely on the conflicts between and within a small ensemble of characters in the middle of nowhere, all of whom seem incapable of acknowledging the momentousness of what is happening around them.

While the atmosphere is menacing throughout, Jo's concentrated aesthetic – and no doubt budgetary considerations as well – restrict our perspective on world-shattering events to a group of locals and tourists whose already low numbers rapidly decrease, whether because of their own murderous actions, or the predations of barely seen (but certainly heard) 'angels', all feather, teeth and bass growls. This limited point-of-view is crucial in a film that dramatises how little scope modernity's secular, consumer-driven worldview has for issues that touch on faith, spirituality and eternity.

It is a mismatch that makes the mysterious hitchhiker not just an uncanny figure, but also, in all his surreal incongruity, a strangely comic one. His providential interventions are repeatedly brushed aside (much to his increasing frustration), while his messages of love, forgiveness and reciprocity echo emptily in a sparse wintry landscape whose wanderers are too busy arguing over the ownership of an imitation designer handbag to notice. We are living, Jo's lo-fi parable suggests, in a material world - indeed, a dog-eat-dog world - and there is a long, cold, dark winter ahead that will reveal us all for the animals we really are.

End Of Animal is a little too loose and meandering in its structure to keep the viewer gripped for its full duration, and some judicious cutting would have done little damage to the integrity of its allegorical narrative – but there is no other film in the apocalypse subgenre that quite matches its low-key approach to the unravelling of the human species.

Reviewed on: 23 Oct 2010
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A young woman seeks the help of a mysterious stranger after the sudden failure of all electricity leaves her stranded in an instantly dog eat dog world.
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Director: Jo Sung-Hee

Writer: Jo Sung-Hee

Starring: Lee Min-ji, Park Hae-il, Yoo Sung-bok, Park Sae-jong, Kim Yeong-ho

Year: 2010

Runtime: 114 minutes

Country: South Korea


London 2010

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