South Korea’s 2016 zombie apocalypse movie Train to Busan broke significant records, becoming not just one of the country’s top-grossing films of all time but an international hit as well. Parasite landed four Oscar wins in 2020, including Best Director and Best Picture. Throw in a handful of titles, like A Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw the Devil, and South Korea quickly emerged as a contributor of prestige genre output. This week’s streaming picks dig slightly deeper into the world of South Korean horror, serving as an introductory course beyond the pinnacle titles.
These five movies tackle revenge, vampires, fairy tale twists, and action-horror extravaganzas.
Here’s where you can watch them this week.
The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion – Netflix
As a child, Ja-yoon escaped from a facility and passed out at the edge of a farm. Years later, she’s been adopted by the family and has no memory of life before them. When dangerous people from her past threaten everything that she holds dear, she’ll have to uncover the truth. First and foremost, the one thing to know going in is that this was written and directed by Hoon-jung Park, the screenwriter behind the excellent and disturbing I Saw the Devil. While The Witch: Subversion is nowhere near as bleak, it has a biting edge of darkness. It also has an insane amount of visceral violence packed in, especially in the third act.
Office – Midnight Pulp, Asian Crush
After a businessman slaughters his family, the police trace his whereabouts back to the office building where he worked. They suspect he’s still somewhere within, panicking the overworked employees and inducing paranoia. It’s a slasher whodunnit blended with satire, with plenty of violence in store in the back half. Director Won-Chan Hong does muddy up some reveals and hints at something supernatural. Still, there’s a lot to love about this twisted workplace horror-thriller between the violence, dark humor, and sustained tension.
The Piper – Prime Video
Kim Gwang-tae’s feature debut is a bleak period fable that draws from The Pied Piper of Hamlin. Set after the Korean War in the ’50s, it follows a traveling father and son who come across a village inundated with rats. The gentle father aids the villagers in removing the rats, but when it comes time for payment, it sets off a catastrophic chain of events. For much of this atmospheric tale, the horror takes a backseat. Save for how the father and son get manipulated and mistreated. Stick with it; it builds to a harrowing and grim finale worth the wait.
Thirst – Hulu
Park Chan-wook is one of the most critically acclaimed filmmakers hailing from South Korea. Well known for the demented and delightfully twisted Vengeance Trilogy, the director has a unique brand of brutal black humor. So, it’s no surprise that he delivers exactly that with his exceptional take on the vampire mythos. Following a Catholic priest who volunteers for a medical experiment only to find himself stricken with vampirism, Thirst is nothing like any vampire film you’ve seen. It’s weird, tragic, and darkly funny as the Catholic priest grapples morally with his newfound thirst for blood and awakened sexuality. Enter South Korea’s first film to feature male full-frontal nudity. In true style, Thirst builds to a gory climax.
Bedevilled – Prime Video, Tubi
Director Cheol-soo Jang lulls the viewer with Bedevilled‘s slow pace before unleashing vicious savagery in the film’s second half. The first half is a drawn-out excruciating watch of lead Kim Bok-nam subjected to physical, mental, and sexual abuse by her husband, town elders, and so-called friends. It’s the type of uncomfortable watch that elicits a strong emotional response; it’s intentionally unpleasant to see Bok-nam endure terrible torment. Enter the second half, full of violent, unrestrained, tour de force of unleashed revenge. Visceral and cathartic, Cheol-soo Jang’s feature debut is an extreme doozy.