Friday, July 03, 2015

NYAFF ’15: Socialphobia

This is a better time to be a relative grown-up than a kid, because you will not look freakishly strange if you keep social networking at arm’s length and ought to be wise enough to understand why that might be a good idea. For those who still do not understand the risks of oversharing and flame-wars, Hong Seok-jae explains it once again in Socialphobia (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2015 New York Asian Film Festival.

In a Law & Order-ishly ripped-from-the-headlines story, a young soldier has committed suicide, but instead of sympathy, a troll using the handle of “Re-Na” has offered up a series of vile comments. This has generated considerable netrage, particularly with two with students preparing for the Police Academy exams. At the insistence of the more gung-ho Ha Yong-min, Kim Ji-woong agrees to join a small gang of rage-rootsers, who want to take their online outrage offline, by paying her a visit in the flesh, which of course they will broadcast online. However, they will wish they had a tape delay in place when they arrive at the woman’s apartment, finding the door wide open and Re-Na dangling from a noose.

There is no way they can deny their involvement, since tens of thousands of online gawkers witnessed them apparently hounding the woman to death. Her real name was Min Ha-young, but it turns out she had an even more notorious “flamer” identity online. They also soon learn her “Re-Na” twitter account was hacked. Ha soon suspects they were set up to cover for a murder, so if they can catch the killer, they just might salvage their hopes of becoming cops.

Something about the internet just brings out the stupid in people, so every mistake these knuckleheads make is wince-inducingly credible. Hong dexterously keeps increasing the temperature on Kim and Ha, like frogs in slowly boiling water, but he loses the handle on the hyperventilating climax.

Hong’s faux-vérité vibe gives the film you-are-there immediacy and the entire cast looks like it was plucked out of bargain basement internet café. While Byun Yo-han is a bit stolid as Kim, Lee Joo-seung is appropriately tightly wound and jangly as Ha. Basically, we can believe this young ensemble is capable of a wide range of morally problematic behavior, which is a disturbing commentary in itself.

While SoPho shares some thematic similarities with Solomon’s Perjury, it lacks the Japanese film sequence’s depth and scope. It is sort of like comparing a line of shots with a multi-course banquet. One is instantly effective, while the other is much more nourishing. Still, SoPho definitely succeeds as a cautionary tale. After watching it, you will want to run multiple virus scans on your computer and then dunk it in industrial strength disinfectant. Recommended for fans of Unfriended, Socialphobia screens tomorrow (7/4) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.