Plastic surgery has done a lot of good for people, but you wouldn’t get that impression from films that prominently feature plastic surgeons, like Eyes Without a Face and The Skin I Live In. Hana is one of the top plastic surgeons in Seoul. She is smart and pretty, but she harbors a dark secret. She could open a practice with Antonio Banderas’s Dr. Ledgard from Almodovar’s film and share office space with Jeremy Irons’ twin gynecologists from Dead Ringers. Yet, the slow-building horror comes not from her, but someone close too her in Takeshi Sone’s Ghost Mask: Scar (trailer here), which screens tonight as a selection of the 2018 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.
Miyu has come from Japan to find her sister, but it is unclear whether she wants to be found. The older sibling was always overshadowed by Miyu and Sae, the youngest, but a terrible misunderstanding brought her resentments to a boil. It is indeed significant she is never given a proper name. Miyu only refers to her as “my sister” and “sis.”
Initially, Miyu finds Seoul to be an expensive and inhospitable place, but she seemingly catches a break when she meets Hana, the plastic surgeon. Forging a fast friendship, Hana invites Miyu to stay with her and her lover Hyoshin, whose instant jealousy is awkwardly conspicuous.
Something is profoundly wrong here, but Sone takes his time revealing his characters’ secrets. Be careful reading about GMS online, because many synopses (including imdb) giveaway way too much. Even though viewers can sense something sinister in the air, the first hour of the film is entirely gore-free. Yet, the tension rises steadily, culminating in a spectacularly bloody climax.
Whether you call it a horror movie or a mystery, GMS is unnervingly effective thanks to the terrific cast. Lee Yu-ha gives a remarkably complex performance as Hana, never skimping on her insecurities or her excesses. Yurika Akane is even more nakedly vulnerable and yet still a little off (in a hard to define way) as Miyu. Miya Sakimoto just makes viewers ache in her flashback scenes as the unnamed sister, while Sou Hirosawa’s Hyoshin viscerally and chillingly schools Othello in the corrosive power of jealousy.
Etsuo Hiratani’s screenplay gives the deceptive impressive of being rather Spartan, but it really delves quite deeply into the characters’ damaged psyches and makes provocative connections that become clear with hindsight. Sone’s own austere cinematography nicely suits the film’s coldly creepy vibe. Very highly recommended for fans of Miike and Cronenberg, Ghost Mask: Scar screens tonight (10/12) at the Wythe Hotel, as part of this year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.