More noise than signal

Red Shoes

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

A Short and Non-Exhaustive List of Things I Am Not Scared Of, by Scott Morris (aged 26 and three quarters):

Hello Kitty bags. This is largely why Dark Water had trouble raising my heartbeat. Twice.
– Red Shoes.

This would seem to bode poorly for Red Shoes, or Boon-hong-sin as known in its native South Korea. However all is not lost, as the haunted shoes (yes, yes, haunted shoes. Bear with me.) we’re talking about in Red Shoes aren’t red at all. They’re pink. Pink shoes are terrifying.

Precisely what this has to do with the 1948 Michael Powell film we’ll leave as an exercise for the interested, as this possibly coincidentally titled K-horror essentially takes a goodly dose of Dark Water, ties it up in a bag with bits of Nakata’s Ring and nigh-on every other Asian horror film of the past half decade and the lake of fake blood left over from Carrie, swings it around its head a few times, throws it against a blackboard and sees what scratches its fingernails over it.

This would seem to bode poorly for Red Shoes, and there’s a large part of me that wants to take this film to the nearest cliff and toss it over the precipice to a rocky demise for its unrelenting, derivative hodgepodge of warmed over cliches and orchestral stab based shenanigans. Despite this, I can’t deny that Red Shoes has the saving grace of pretty much working, most of the time, in a way that’s been noticeably absent of late. I mean, come on. Reeker?

You’ll note I’ve fastidiously avoided writing up the plot thus far, because frankly synopsising this makes it seem so laughable I have to commend the scriptwriter for completing the draft without throwing it in the bin for being far too silly. A prologue of sorts sees a schoolgirl stumble on a pair of pink shoes sitting bereft of owner in a subway station, quickly and violently seized by this schoolgirl’s friend in a fit of Gollum-esque pique. Within a few minutes she’s hearing disembodied footsteps following her, and within a few more minutes she’s had her legs chopped off by a mysterious force of supernature.

Gaspshockhorror, etc. Years roll on and the shoes are next picked up by Sun-Jae (Kim Hye-soo), recently divorced and living in a shabby apartment with her daughter, Tae-su (Yeon-ah Park). Fit of Gollum-esque pique, etc, although this time the oddness is dragged out of a longer time frame, perhaps because Sun-Jae spends most of the film re-confiscating the shoes from her offspring. Mix in a burgeoning romance with the interior decorator of her ophthalmic clinic and an occasionaly-flashed-backed-to origin story of sorts regarding the initial cursing and first victims of the shoes and you’re probably getting some idea of the mess of strands that have been thrown together, rather than woven.

All of which seems terribly negative, and perhaps in part that’s due to my reluctance to compliment a story that’s about haunted footwear. Stupider concept than Reeker‘s killer smell? Answers, postcards. As a story, you can not deny that this is as mad as a bag of spiders. What’s somewhat less risible is the way the other elements compensate for this boneheadedness.

Seemingly in common with every other South Korean film that makes it over to U.K. shores, there are some fabulous shots in here. Cinematographically, it’s as good as you’ll see in a horror, with bold use of colour and effective use of shade in the grimy locations. The sound design, more often than not the completely overlooked yet most vital element in horror moviemaking is.., well, it certainly isn’t subtle, but it’s effective. There’s a few of the seemingly contractually obligated orchestral stab nonsense used in favour of anything actually frightening, but we’ll chose to overlook this in favour of the pulsating undercurrent of electrical humming that seems everpresent, although it isn’t, the baroque incidental organ music, the bursts of static that seem to have been ported over from Silent Hill and some piercing screeches that almost had me clasping my hands over my ears. This isn’t new, or indeed big or clever. I can’t deny that it’s unnerving.

The acting’s surprisingly good, given what they’re trying to have us believe, which in case it hasn’t sunk in yet is haunted shoes, and earnest enough to bring some semblance of suspension of disbelief to this whole haunted shoes thing. Mixed bag then, but the sound design overpowers everything else. If you happen to see this in a cinema with a less than decent sound setup you’re in for a world of hurt, but if there’s a decent wattage level around this film can tear your nerves to shreds. It certainly marks the closest I’ve been to unsettled by a horror film since, well, Ring, I suppose.

In fact I’d like this to the tune of 4 arbitrary film judgements units, if it weren’t for some needlessly ludicrous, also seemingly contractually obligated last minute twists trying to retcon it as a psychological rather than supernatural horror, and then another twist undoing this, which if it were an emotion would be ‘unwarranted smugness’. There’s very little in Red Shoes you won’t have seen before in some form or another, and even less that’s done better than you’ve seen before. Hell. it’s not even really about red shoes. However, it manages to rise above the sum of its derivations for the most part, and it’s as good a horror film as we’ve come to expect of recent years. Damning, faint praise and all.