I finally saw I Saw The Devil after much ado, brouhaha and hyperbole. Caught it on Netflix, even though I'd passed on several press big-screen showings a few months before. Why'd I take so long? Well, I'm not a huge fan of either Asian films (generally speaking; of course, there are exceptions) nor am I one to seek out torture porn (generally speaking; of course, there are exceptions). However, it was coming 'round time to compile my Best-of list for 2011 and what kind of horror pundit would I be if I wasn't as informed as I could possibly be? So, I saw it.
And when it was over, I thought: Yeah, that happened.
I didn't not like it — in fact, there were many shocking and arresting moments, but when it was all over, I didn't have the revelatory feeling I'd just witnessed anything new or brash in the revenge movie milieu. I'd seen director Ji-Woon Kim's previous works in A Tale of Two Sisters and The Three Extremes, both of which I liked for their agro weirdness and undeniable beauty in the grotesque. I Saw The Devil wasn't beautiful, but it was quite brutal — story's about a detective on the trail of a sadistic serial killer who kills only for extreme pleasure (his, of course). The acting is rather histrionic and over the top (especially Oldboy's CHOI Min-sik as the sinister psychopath — someone like Anthony Hopkins can make the unbelievably crazy, believable… probably because of the innate intellect to both the characters he plays, and he, himself). The movie's quite grand and there's a lot of action and intrigue, so if you're predisposed to like this sort of think, then you will probably enjoy I Saw The Devil quite a bit. Me, not so much.
Now, Insidious is my kind of horror movie. Quite obviously a love letter to director James Wan’s favorite movie, Poltergeist, the spooky story follows a young married couple and their children into a new home… and into the pit of darkness when an evil presence makes its insidious intentions known. Renais and Josh are still unpacking boxes when one of their three young children falls prey to “the man with fire in his face” – a horrible specter who stands at the center of a whirlpool of ghosts, ghouls, and goblins. Showing us nearly everything via corporeal body – think: The Shining, with the bathtub lady and the twins – Wan succeeds in both homage and an original (if traditional) telling. What’s more, Insidious is one of the most effective PG-13 white-knucklers since The Ring and The Others. There’s plenty of stock scares – doors opening and closing on their own, glimpses of intruders, goofy music used subversively (in this case, it’s Tiny Tim’s Tiptoe Through the Tulips), children awakening screaming from nightmares, and so on – but Wan knows how to draw out the suspense that exploit each moment to its utmost.
And then there's Chop. Ohhhhh… Talking Chop... What can I really say? A flatly filmed, amateurishly made, poorly acted and head-spinningly stupid comedy, it's an interminable mess of long, drawn out dialogue scenes between a man tied to a chair who's being chopped to bits — slowly, bit by bit — by a talky torturer who ekes out the reason for his revenge little by little. Very little by little. Interspersed with flashbacks to the street corners where the serial slayer found his prostitute-prey, Chop is a pretty unimaginative run 'round the block of the same old story. However, having said that, there are some memorable kooky characters (a pair of white trash brothers, one of whom has an uncanny love for old Diff'rent Strokes reruns), some pretty droll humor, and a good take on sado-masochism as a comic plot device. It's silly and stupid, but Chop has its watchable moments (especially if you chop it up with spurts and zooms via the fast-forward button on your remote).
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson