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Door Lock
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by Jay Seaver

"Never lets one feel truly safe."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It seems as though nifty movie ideas get passed around the world and redone for local audiences more than they used to, well beyond how folks used to complain that it was mainly Americans who didn't want to deal with subtitles. I think that I have seen the movie which inspired this film ("Sleep Tight"), but it's not like the case of another Korean remake of a Spanish thriller a couple years ago when I realized that I knew what's going to happen next about ten minutes in. It certainly feels like its own movie, and a thriller that doesn't mess around much to boot.

Door Lock[/I opens with a bit of CCTV footage from outside an apartment very much like the one occupied by Jo Gyeung-min (Kong Hyo-Jin), a loan officer who is very on-edge about her personal safety - aside from seeming dizzy and dull in the morning, she notes her electronic lock behaving erratically, and eyes fellow passengers on the subway and a package delivered to bank where she works with suspicion. She's got reason to be worried, but only co-worker Oh Hyo-Ju (Kim Ye-Won) believes her without reservation, and in this sort of situation, it's not necessarily any easier to trust Detective Lee (Kim Sung-Oh) or okay-seeming supervisor Kim Sung-Ho (Lee Chun-Hee) than combative customer Kim Ki-Jung (Jo Bok-Rae) or custodian Han Dong-Hoon (Lee Ga-Sub).

The focus on security is kind of intriguing, in that the makers of this sort of movie often either have characters start out as fearless or present any attempt at self-protection as futile beyond making someone a prisoner of their own fears, and there's a bit of that for Gyeung-min; for there to be a movie, all of her preparations must eventually fall (although I'm not entirely certain how her regular pass-code changes get tripped up), but she seldom seems foolishly vigilant. Situations that turn out harmless still feel dangerous enough for caution to be sensible, and there are just enough incidents where men don't understand the sort of intimidation that women are subject to to make it clear that Gyeung-min is more or less on her own without making them completely callous. There's care to parallel other aspects of a young person's life, too, such as the uncertainty of employment and rent seem to put all the risk on the person who can least bear it.

And in terms of nuts-and-bolts construction, it's a fine thriller. Filmmaker Lee Kwon has a chance to get cute with how what the audience sees isn't what's going on, but dispenses with that quickly, in a way that ties one's stomach in a knot with a real sustained urgency of what has to be done without getting too explicit too early. As the film goes on, Lee and his team are not afraid to push hard to get the film into dark, suspenseful territory, finding ways to change direction sharply even as it winds down. There's an undiluted nastiness that's often the case with Korean thrillers in particular, but writer/director Lee Kwon does good work on staying on just the right side of the line between "intense" and "repulsive".

Kong Hyo-Jin impresses in the leading role; a lot of genre films get constructed so that the audience can notice a big shift in a protagonist's state of mind, but Kong gets to start Gyeung-min on edge and let that bleed into obsession, or add an edge to professionalism or ambition that the viewer can understand even as they can also see how others within that world can see it only in terms of how it affects them. At times, the film stumbles a bit in how it handles partner-in-crime-solving Hyo-ju, in that actress Kim Ye-Won can be a little too good at lightening the mood or seemingly dismissing what getting sucked into all of this mess as Gyeung-min's support means for her, but the actresses mostly play well off each other. Director Lee and the men in the cast do nice work in finding the notes where the audience can see exactly what direction these guys are meant to lead the audience but stopping right at the point where the viewers can second-guess themselves, right up until someone's even worse than they'd appeared.

It's immediately obvious just how much "Door Lock" is about how difficult it is for a woman to feel safe from men when writing about it afterward despite it seldom feeling like a morality play during its running time (and I look forward to learning women's opinions of just how well this movie written and directed by men adapted from a movie written and directed by men captures that sensation). It's a thriller with sometimes outrageous surprises up its sleeve that nevertheless is able to build suspense from being grounded in something genuine and disturbing.

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originally posted: 04/22/20 11:25:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Kwon Lee

Written by
  Park Jung-Hee
  Kwon Lee

  Hyo-jin Kong
  Ye-Won Kim
  Seong-oh Kim

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