The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion

A moment of celebration accompanied the screening of The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion (마녀, Manyeo) at the Glasgow Film Festival, the thousandth film screened under the FrightFest banner in their many events organised across the country down the years and one which emphasised their ongoing commitment not just to horror but to the wider realms of genre cinema, a violent revenge thriller hailing from South Korea.

Written and directed by I am the Devil‘s Hoon-jung Park, it is the story of teenager Ja-yoon (Kim Da-mi), found unconscious in the fields of farmer Mr Koo and his wife ten years before, the childless couple having adopted the amnesiac girl and raised her as their own, unaware of the terrible events which drove her into their arms.

Hunted through the nights with dogs after the other children in her ward were exterminated as a failed experiment, the sinister Doctor Baek (Jo Min-su) had ordered her henchman Mister Choi (Park Hee-soon) to list Ja-yoon as dead at the time, believing there was no way a child alone could have survived, yet she did and as she grows her formidable powers have manifested.

Travelling to Seoul to take part in auditions for the televised talent show Birth of a Star with her best friend Myung-hee (Go Min-si), Ja-yoon’s performance is a hit but as well as the adulation of the crowds it draws the attention of those she escaped a decade before who will go to any length to recapture her or eliminate the threat she represents to the international business interests who sponsored the project.

From Hanna to Lucy to Morgan, the superpowered girl who wreaks havoc upon the clandestine and otherwise unaccountable agency which created her cannot be considered an innovative narrative at this point, and The Witch has little new to contribute to the action genre with long periods of talking and plotting interspersed with short bursts of bloody violence.

The talent show subplot a curious diversion which sits incongruously with the wider story of genetic experimentation and murder, it cannot even be deemed a strategic marketing decision to expand the potential audience of the film unless research indicated that the audience also had a fetish for blood-splattered teenage girls.

Fortunately, taken for what it is, The Witch is a well-crafted example of its genre, the fight scenes dynamic and impeccably achieved and captured, and Kim Da-mi and Jo Min-su both conflicted and sympathetic in their performances as the deadly creation seeking answers and vengeance and the proud but arrogant creator.

That said, although the finale is deliberately open-ended to allow a continuation as implied by the title, The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion having already grossed five times its budget in its native South Korea alone, any sequel will have to significantly raise its ambition if it is to make significant ripples in international waters.

The 2019 Glasgow Film Festival is now concluded



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