Ah, the home invasion movie. It’s a tried, tested, and true subgenre of the thriller and horror variety, akin to the zombie feature before zombie films and television shows became all the rage. Nobody ever really tires of the home invasion movie, probably because it speaks to something quite primal in each and every one of us — namely the assault on our personal territory. When our most private space is intruded upon, be it by honest mistake or intentionally and maliciously, it can get at our goat or positively terrify us. Truth be told, a filmmaker and studio cannot limit themselves to simply plopping out another entry in what is already a long list of ventures. They are like James Bond movies: one doesn’t simply make ‘another James Bond movie.’ Even with something undeniably formulaic, there must be a special hook to make another chapter worthy of being told, and Door Lock provides just that.
Lew Kwon’s latest opens with a young lady heading back to her condominium complex in the evening. Some editing tricks fool the audience into believing that someone may be tailing her, but she eventually makes it to the confines of her modern apartment safe and sound — that is, until she realizes that the electricity is malfunctioning, and a shadowy figure emerges from behind. Violent assault and cut to black; the audience is then introduced to bank teller Cho-Kyung-min(Gong Hyo-jin). She has just moved into her own apartment, incidentally in the same building depicted in the opening sequence. Striving for a contract extension in the hopes of accomplishing more than just making ends meet, her colleague and friend, Oh Hyo-joo (Kim Ye-won), does her best to get the idea across that Kyung-min is too modest and inept at asserting herself. Constantly tired and living a relatively unfulfilling life, things take a dramatic turn for the worse when a potential client (Jo Bok-rae) takes her rebuttal to a date very, very poorly. From that moment, Kyung-min starts to believe that someone keeps clandestinely entering her home, with the suspects quickly piling up!
Sometimes what a cinephile requires in their diet is an effort that aims for something unique, or tackles a particular subject matter from a different vantage point (this year’s The Father’s Shadow and Mystery of the Night being prime examples). Other times, a nice, solid addition to a familiar genre with all the necessary nuts and bolts is precisely what the doctor ordered. In that respect, director Lee Kown’s Door Lock delivers. A remake of the Brazilian picture Sleep Tight (which the author has not had the pleasure of seeing at the time of the review’s publication), this South Korean pot-boiler further solidifies the notion that the country’s movie scene is, in several respects, very much on par with what Hollywood churns out. Their movies look good, their actors look good, the editing is slick, the scores are compelling, etc. Basically, they know how to package a movie. In North America, viewers are treated (some would say assaulted) by a deluge of Hollywood productions on a weekly basis, whereas comparatively speaking, only a select few Korean films make the trip. Understandably, those exported are the movies Korean studios believe will be hits — in other words, the good stuff. Imagine if other markets around the globe only received MCU, Christopher Nolan, Tarantino, Guillermo Del Toro, and Steven Spielberg movies; Hollywood would be the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Dancing around certain plot details is necessary for the purpose of a review of Door Lock, given that the added spice the filmmakers inject to make this home invasion stand out just a little bit is part and parcel of the picture’s appeal. Suffice to say it is worth it. In fact, when the revelation occurred, there was a clear and audible gasp in the audience that attended the Fantasia Film Festival screening. Furthermore, once said critical plot point is divulged, Lee Kwon takes the endeavour in a slightly different direction, having protagonists Kyung-min and Hyo-joo embark on an amateur detective adventure to track the former’s nefarious tormentor. The movie never goes full crazy like this year’s Us, but it accomplishes enough to earn the viewer’s attention.
If anything, Door Lock arguably lacks a sense of equilibrium in how it manipulates the many suggestions of the danger’s source. Some are incredibly creepy — not only before, but when the fuller picture is revealed — while others ultimately feel like terribly obvious red herrings that can be guessed by even casual horror movie fans. The byproduct of the less-than-perfect juggling act is a movie that truthfully could have been a spotless 90 minutes, but morphs into a slightly excessive 120 minutes. Like so many other thrillers of its ilk, when all the cards are laid on the table for the climax, director Lee feels obligated to go ‘big’ (relatively speaking of course), representing a tonal shift counter to the quieter, more procedural and legitimately creepy earlier goings.
While the individual portraying the antagonist delivers a perfunctory baddie persona, co-leads Gong Hyo-jin and Kim Ye-won are quite impressive. Kim personifies the archetypal devil-may-care co-worker who doesn’t take crap from anybody, demonstrating loyalty to her friend via steadfast intent to tag along and participate in the sleuthing. On the other hand, Gong plays the part of the alarmed victim, the people who are read about in the papers or seen interviewed by TV news reporters because they’ve had the unfortunate experience of living through a similar episode. Her Kyung-min is the embodiment of the ordinary person in way over their head when confronted with such evil subterfuge. What’s more, one can make the case that the fact that the protagonist is a woman (as is the doomed character at the film’s start) is a very à propos storytelling decision considering the social climate in 2019 and the past few years. To this day it stands to reason that more often than not the targets of this kind of abuse are women, thus lending the picture some added timeliness. Bonus points for having the film’s female character actually try to fix their own problems too.
Door Lock does not reinvent the wheel. It sometimes feels as though because North American and global audiences have been blessed with the fortune of enjoying top-tier South Korean cinema for a while already that everything they touch is pure gold. Make no mistake — when it’s golden, it’s 24 karat. Sometimes the effort is just solid, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Door Lock is a perfect example of such an entertaining, thoroughly engaging thriller with one neat trick up its sleeve. By giving it a chance, it’s doubtful you’ll leave thinking it unjustly invaded your space.
The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.