August 12, 2023

SEIRE and the Perils of Parenthood

2021 / 102 min
Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

The title refers to the first 21 days of a newborn’s life. Based on Korean folklore, parents are required to take great measures to assure the child’s safety, such as refusing to let strangers in the house and refrain from doing certain activities, like going to funerals. Violating the rules can bring great misfortune.

But new dad Woo-jin (Seo Hyun-woo) feels obligated to attend a funeral anyway, that of former girlfriend Se-young (Sun-young Ryu). Though he doesn’t believe in old legends, his highly superstitious wife, Hai-mi (Eun-woo Shim), is horrified at what he’s done. She doesn’t quite send him packing, but initially refuses to let him near their child.

During the interim between Se-young’s funeral and the actual burial (which Woo-jin feels obligated to participate in), he meets Ye-young, the twin sister he didn’t know Se-young had and learns how (maybe why) she died. Not to give things away, but that revelation becomes the crux of the story, during which time Woo-jin begins to fear Se-young is striking back from the grave, threatening his newborn baby. 

"C'mon, honey...chug! Like we did during college."
Told almost completely from Woo-jin’s perspective, what makes Seire especially intriguing is its overall ambiguity. Episodically structured, many ominous and occasionally horrifying events occur, though they may not necessarily be paranormal. We could just as easily be witnessing Woo-jin’s descent into madness triggered by overwhelming guilt. Whether viewed as supernatural or psychological horror, the film is quietly unsettling.

Patience is required, though. Seire is very deliberately paced, punctuated by low-key performances which help establish the tone. Seo Hyun-woo, in particular, is excellent, carrying most of the film on his shoulders in a role that requires him to express remorse and desperation with minimal dialogue. Sad, somber and surreal, Seire weaves folklore and superstition for an effective little horror tale that favors mood over traditional shocks.

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