THE WITCH: PART 1 – THE SUBVERSION **** South Korea 2019 Dir: Hoon-jung Park. 125 mins
This bold and gripping genre hybrid opens with disturbing hints of a massacre: two kids are on the run from some kind of experimental science lab where blood splattered teddy bears decorate what’s left behind. One of the kids shows up wounded at the farm home of friendly couple Choi Jung-Woo and Oh Min-hee. With no memory of her earlier existence, she grows up to be a fun-loving teenager (Kim Da-Mi) and even appears on a TV talent show (singing a rock version of Danny Boy!) but her capabilities and memories are revived upon meeting a handsome young man on a train who knows all about her origins. Writer-director Park wrote the deservedly acclaimed I SAW THE DEVIL and, with strong production values, sadistic (if sometimes broadly played) villains and a terrific, empathetic performance by Kim Da-Mi, has here crafted a brutal horror / action-laced variation on X MEN, with a strong dose of Nixon-era anti-government genre fare like THE FURY. Da-Mi’s winning screen presence is tempered by Ko Min-shi’s amusing portrayal of her fast-talking, hyper-excitable best friend and she makes a remarkable transition from ordinary, naïve teenager to a genuinely dangerous physical presence. If the mid-section has a lull born of the need for exposition, THE WITCH showcases a series of super-stylish, hyper-bloody set pieces in its second half, unveiling a startling new female assassin. Like seemingly every other recent genre film, it has a Marvel-style credits sting following the emotional wrap-up.
Review by Steven West