As if raising a child wasn’t stressful enough without ghosts wrecking everything.
“You must’ve brought bad luck back from the funeral.”
Woon-jin (Seo Hyun-woo) and Hae-mi (Shim Eun-woo) are new parents who are currently in the seire, or samchil-il period. That is, the 21 days immediately following the birth of a child where you forbid outsiders from entering the house and you do everything you can to protect the baby from evil spirits. Woo-jin gets a text from his college friends that his ex-girlfriend Se-young (Abel Ryu in a dual role as twins) has passed away, and there will be a funeral. Despite protestations from his wife, Woo-jin goes anyway, and – as expected – strange things immediately begin to happen.
Seire is a film that likes to keep things simple. It’s a classic ghost story with a basic premise that never tries to do too much. Writer-director Park Kang chooses to use superstition to explore his characters, and modern Korea’s relationship to old-fashioned beliefs. The central conflict deals with the decision to have a child, the responsibilities that follow up from that, and the difficult topics that naturally follow. Hae-mi’s strict adherence to rituals compared to the dismissal of her partner, and even her sister (Go Eun-min) works as a mirror to differing parenting styles, or even the innate difficulties of raising a child under two different faiths.
The film hinges a lot on you having pre-existing knowledge of Korean traditions and superstitions. On occasion it helps you to really grasp why characters behave in the ways they do. That’s not a fault of the film, more an inevitable side effect of watching foreign media But even if, like me, you’d never even heard of samchil-il until now, the storytelling is straightforward enough – and there’s plenty of exposition throughout – so you never feel too left out. I did end up wondering what would happen if multiple had had children, or if someone from a country where this wasn’t a belief, showed up. I understand that Se-young had unresolved issues with Woo-jin, but she didn’t with anyone else. Seems like a bit of a dick move if people you love come to your funeral, for you to go and ruin their lives.
But I digress. Seire’s strength is in the way it uses Korean traditions to explore relationships in modern Korea. Woo-jin isn’t a particularly great person, and has to face his wrongs before setting things right. And because of that, it does raise one very important question: Is this film even scary? It’s a horror after all. And, well, no. It’s not. There are pretty much no scares in it whatsoever, but it is often suspenseful, creepy and uses the supernatural to deliver some pretty upsetting imagery in places. It’s more of a thriller and drama with some fantasy-horror elements that highlight how terrifying it is to have a baby in the first place. In that regard, it works really well. With your expectations toned appropriately, you’ll have a subdued, but chilling good time.
Verdict: Above all else, Seire is an intriguing view into our cultural differences, and a pretty suspenseful one at that.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Sex: Must have, what with all those babies
Dreams: About a million
Cod tonic: Apparently a thing, and way more of a plot point than I’d have imagined
Also known as세이레
Director: Park Kang
Writer: Park Kang
Seo Hyun-woo – Woo-jin
Shim Eun-woo – Hae-mi
Ryu Abel – Se-young /Ye-young
Kim Woo-kyum – Seong-taek
Go Eun-min – SISTER