Some of our most vivid memories of school are the teachers who taught us be it the good or bad experiences we had with them. A good memory I have of one at my old secondary school (high school to you American readers) in South East London was a supply teacher we had once named Clyde Gatell, an American from Brooklyn who was teaching on the side while trying to break into acting. He was a nice laid-back man who talked fondly of his experiences working with Tim Burton on 1989’s ‘Batman’ while filming the flashback sequence depicting the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents in which he played the other mugger. I remember him mimicking my strong South London accent one time making me laugh.
Unfortunately though, most of the memories I have of the permanent teaching staff there are bad ones. Like how one day at lunchtime when my former English teacher came up to me while I was talking to a couple of school friends and embarrassed me in front of them by making fun of me about how miserable I was all the time. This was not that long after my father who had treated me badly had died and I was having a hard time at home with my mother taking her frustrations out on me due to losing him and the financial bother we were in because of it. I was just a 15-year-old boy at the time, my father’s recent passing was common knowledge amongst the teaching staff, and being a grown man Mr Nat should have known better.
Former students’ bad experiences with a teacher and repercussions of that are the focus of the relatively effective but problematic South Korean slasher ‘Bloody Reunion’. It tells the tale of just that a “bloody reunion” as bitter grudges is brought out at a class reunion with disastrous bloody consequences in this debut feature by director Dae-wung Lim.
The film opens with a montage of flashbacks. We see pregnant teacher Ms. Park (Oh Mi-hee) teaching class; she loves her pupils who in turn seem to care for her too. While she is supervising the children as they play in the water, blood starts to run down her leg and in the hospital, she gives birth to a deformed boy. Ms. Park’s husband locks away their son in the basement of their countryside home and disturbed by his offspring’s freakish appearance he hangs himself. Flashing forwards to the present a man makes the gruesome discovery of five bodies and two unconscious victims in the basement of the same house. The two survivors - Ms. Park who is now ill and her caretaker and former student Mi-Ja (Seo Young-hee) - are taken to the hospital. When Mi-Ja awakes, she recounts the grisly events to Detective Ma (Kim Eung-soo).
Mi-Ja invited six of Ms. Park’s former students to her house for a class reunion 16 years after they graduated whom all resent her for different reasons - Dal-Bong (Park Hyo-jun) , Eun-Young (Yu Seol-ah), Jung-Won (Jang Seong-won), Myung-Ho (Lee Dong-kyu), Sun-Hee (Lee Ji-Hyun) and Se-Ho (Yeo Hyun-soo). We are shown a more sadistic side to Ms. Park during their flashbacks and narration of these events that have made them so bitter towards her and as the reunion continues tensions rise as their mentalities deteriorates letting out their anger towards her for how their lives have turned out. Also during their flashbacks, we see their memories of Ms. Park’s deformed son who they teased and in one scene, we see them stealing his bunny mask that he has made himself out of paper. In the present, a bunny-masked killer shows up at the reunion bumping off the graduates one by one.
This is a terrific set-up with a lot of thought given to the character development with real young people with real problems; these likable characters are instantly relatable drawing our sympathies as we know from our own experiences that growing up is very hard and plays a crucial part in shaping us into the adults we are going to be. This material provides an emotive layer rarely seen in the slasher sub-genre and the cast are all around solid as well portraying the subject matter with conviction that is another rarity in this type of horror.
This first act is the most interesting part of the proceedings and then it gets into slasher territory but that is not a bad thing as it is well-executed and entertaining living up to the title ‘Bloody Reunion’. The patience of the deliberate pacing beforehand pays off as we have been given time to get to know these characters before they are sliced n’ diced in the nastiest ways imaginable. This gives these graphic gory depictions of sadistic tortures and murders more of an impact that really hits you as you have been made to feel for these characters. The special make-up effects are top notch in delivering these well-staged set-pieces that is a brutal and unsettling experience. The movie is also nicely shot and scored and generates a dark atmosphere.
After an hour and 15 minutes of what is a strong slasher outing, what should have been one of the very better modern entries into the sub-genre, and one smaller twist already we are totally thrown off course in our expectations of how the direction of the story will go with a big whopper of a one. While this second twist deserves top marks for making the story anything but predictable it made me feel cheated out of something that should have been a superior slasher, much in the same way of how I feel about the first hour of 1987’s Evil Dead Trap that I like very much but its last act ruins it for me.
Obviously, I cannot delve too much into this, as it would spoil the viewing for any of you who have yet to see it. All I can say is that if Lim had of handled it much in the same way of how Alexandre Aja created the twist for his excellent 2003 slasher debut ‘High Tension’ then it would have worked. This is in that all the murders happened but unknown to the viewer for throughout the majority of the runtime it is all seen subjectively though the protagonist’s perspective only for the facts of how it all actually transpired to be revealed in the finale. I know many have a problem with the ending of ‘High Tension’ and while it does create some plot holes, at least we know all the horrific events we witnessed happened. Here it feels like one big lie has been told to us, which is actually the point, but as clever as it is because it does not forget its theme of childhood cruelty, it still feels like we have been duped into believing something that results in us wasting our time.
As I stated though the film does not forget in its final moments the tragedy of a miserable childhood and its adverse effects on adulthood that has been depicted over its course and here in the closing minutes the culmination of that is delivered with profound provocation for a bleak and poignant climax. Teachers should be role models to the children in their care to be their mentors who nurture their upbringings and not to be bullies who criticise and ridicule them.
I really wanted to like ‘Bloody Reunion’ more than I did as a lot more care has gone into it than most slashers packing a powerful punch with its psychological element with its theme of childhood trauma and also with its mean spirited set-pieces. It is just a shame a lot more care did not go into how its second twist is presented as it negates everything that was enjoyable before leaving the viewer with more of a feeling of having been cheated than of shock.
** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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