Spider Forest

Spider Forest


Reviewed by: Emma Slawinski

Spider Forest is a complex psychological thriller that manipulates time-frames and memories in the manner of films like The Machinist and Memento, with a good dose of the raw, primal fear that The Blair Witch Project channelled into addictively suspenseful viewing. It kicks off with the discovery of a brutal double murder in a cabin sunk deep in a very creepy forest. Kang Min (Kam Woo-seong) is a recently widowed TV producer struggling to keep it together and cope with the loss of his wife. For initially unclear reasons, he is drawn into the isolated, dense forest and finds the bloodied corpses of his girlfriend and her lover. Realising he is not alone, he runs from the scene, to be pursued and attacked.

He wakes up after a 14-day coma with confused, fragmented memories of the events leading up to his trauma in the forest – both recent and from the more distant past. Though clues and backstories emerge very gradually as the film skips around in time, Spider Forest is always engrossing. It poses question upon question, not all of which are answered fully, but it pulls off the narrative trickery and surreality with the help of an exceptional performance from Kam Woo-Seong as the damaged protagonist who goes on a strange journey of self-discovery.

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Kang’s painful progress through buried memories takes him through periods of serene bravado to ones of haunting emptiness, and then to moments of horror and violence. The tangled spider-web of his history extends back to his early childhood, and it’s only by reaching back so far that he can start to make his way out of the impenetrable forest that holds him hostage. The supporting cast are strong too, with Suh Jung particularly impressive as the woman upon whom Kang is fixated.

The slow pace and resistance to simple conclusions will be a turn-off for some. Though Spider Forest shares some characteristics with the aforementioned The Machinist and Memento, it refuses to tie up all the loose ends with a big narrative pay-off. If you’re not put off by a few hanging threads though, there is still much to savour.

As well as the engaging storylines and great action, the photography and use of colour are striking too. The forest glints in an uncanny light at night-time, interiors are full of bleached colours, and a highway tunnel set drenched in sickly yellow light makes for possibly the most disturbing scene in the whole film - which really encapsulates the inspired restraint of Spider Forest. Song Il-gon is parsimonious with violence, his ‘scares’ are never over-the-top or gratuitous, and this allows him to build up layer upon layer of mystery and menace. A meticulous, intelligent, thought-provoking thriller, Spider Forest will haunt you for weeks after you watch it.

Reviewed on: 27 Jan 2009
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Slow-burning thriller that follows a man on his fractured psychological journey to understand the chilling murder of his girlfriend and her lover.
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Director: Il-gon Song

Writer: Il-gon Song

Starring: Woo-seong Kam, Jung Suh, Kyeong-heon Kang, Hyeong-seong Jang, Byung-ho Son

Year: 2004

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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