Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bluebeard: The Doctor and the Butchers

You would think karma would ease up on the bankrupt doctor once he accepted a temporary position in an exurban clinic specializing in colonoscopies, but Seung-hoon’s troubles are only beginning. He has started to suspect his new landlords are serial killers and that they suspect that he suspects. The butchers living downstairs may in fact be butchers in director-screenwriter Lee Soo-youn’s Bluebeard (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

About a decade ago, this regional industrial town was notorious for being the serial killer capital of Korea. The grisly murders had supposedly stopped, but the cops are starting to find body parts in the river again. It is bad timing for Seung-hoon. He came to town hoping to regroup after both his tony Gangnam clinic and his marriage to the unstable Soo-jung failed. He will not lack for work in the super busy clinic, the region’s only medical facility, where he works with Nurse Mi-yeon. She knows she is still cute, so she expects to get away with a lot.

Colonoscopies are one of their most common procedures. They can be rather uncomfortable to perform, especially when anesthetized patients unwittingly reveal embarrassing facts. However, when the cranky old father of Sung-hoon’s landlord starts mumbling advice on the proper method for dismembering and disposing of bodies, his words have an alarming ring of real life experience.

As a result, Seung-hoon no longer feels comfortable in his crummy flat, even though his landlord Sung-geun wants to drinking buddies. It turns out the butcher’s first wife “abandoned” him without a trace and his second wife just suddenly decided to take a trip. The doctor’s worst fears seem to be realized when he spies a severed head in Sung-geun’s freezer during a hardcore braincell-killing drinking session, but he is too drunk and exhausted to deal with it in a rational manner.

Thus, a game of cat-and-mouse proceeds, but there will be several wild cards, including a mysterious retired police detective. Of course, there will be twists, including a big one that pulls the rug out from under our feet, which will be revealed in an epilogue much like that of Hitchcock’s Psycho, except longer and possibly darker.

It is hard to classify Bluebeard as either a horror film, a serial killer thriller, or an intimate Polanski-esque portrait of insanity and the further madness it produces. However, there is no question Cho Jin-woong’s weirdly clammy and tightly wound performance as the unfortunate doctor keeps us completely off balance. Likewise, the eerily baby-faced Kim Dae-myung is thoroughly creepy as Sung-geun, while Lee Chung-ah adds further elements of unpredictability as Mi-yeon, the flighty pseudo-femme fatale.

Bluebeard is an icily cerebral and manipulative film, but it is jolly fun to watch the lengths Lee Soo-youn goes to, just for the sake of playing the audience. It is an unrepentantly sinister and devious film, in the best sense. Recommended for fans of serial killer movies, Bluebeard opens this Friday (3/17) in New York, at the AMC Empire.