The Silenced is a creepy mystery.
With some unexpected twists and turns along the way.
In 2015’s The Silenced, Ju-ran/Shizuko is a young girl who arrives at an all-girl’s boarding school in 1938, during the Japanese occupation of Seoul. It’s run by the Japanese, and its purpose seems to be indoctrination into Japanese culture and to strengthen the girls to service the occupying force.
Ju-ran arrives with suspected tuberculosis yet miraculously starts getting healthier. All thanks to some unknown treatments she’s been receiving, which include pills before every meal and intravenous fluids.
Ju-ran learns that there was another girl who was also given the name Shizuko, who vanished from the school one day.
At the same time, it seems like some of the other girls are sick, and getting sicker. One girl flies into a violent rage, which ends in convulsions. later she’s forgotten that the incident ever happened.
Later, a girl named Eguchi is seen in a zombie-like state under a bed, breathing like she has lungs full of fluid and leaving a trail of blood all over the floor. The next day the school staff explains it all away, says that her mother came and picked her up (the same thing that happened to the previous Shizuko). But the girls later find her writhing in pain and convulsing under the stairs.
So shit’s getting weird. And it gets weirder when it turns out Ju-ran isn’t just getting healthier, but stronger. Super-humanly stronger. Ju-ran goes on a mission to find out exactly what’s going on with the school… but she might not like what she finds.
The Silenced is full of creepy imagery. One dream sequence sees Ju-ran being pulled underwater, finding rows upon rows of dead girls standing upright on the beneath the lake. The sickness of the girls is shown with a good amount of body horror. And there are a few scenes down the line that are too wonderfully gruesome to spoil.
But the movie isn’t a horror. Or even the more generic “mystery-thriller” label it’s given on its Wikipedia page. While most of the film is a moody, atmospheric wartime chiller, towards the end the film it turns into supernatural, almost steampunk-style action, not a million miles away from Wolfenstein: The New Order or Bioshock. It pulls the switch off smoothly, and it’s a blast.
Underneath the more fantastical themes is a strong criticism of military occupation, indoctrination, and dehumanisation. It’s no accident that it all takes place in a school, where you’re all forced to wear identical clothing and follow strict rules. The characters being given Japanese names and forced to follow Japanese customs takes that even further. Indeed, Ju-ran and Yeon-deok only call each other by their real names when they’re out from under the watchful eye of the headmistress, and away from the rest of the girls who are vying for a trip to Tokyo.
While the cinematography is excellent, I didn’t get a very big period vibe from the movie until near the end. Obviously no one pulls out a cellphone or says “on fleek” at any point. But the dialogue, performances, and look of the girls and sets don’t feel like they’re particularly from the 1930s. That might just be lost in translation though. And there’s some saccharine music in the quieter moments, which comes across as a little too Parmesan cheese for my liking. But I think that’s standard for Korean flicks like this.
I’ve seen a few Korean movies over the last year, and they’ve yet to disappoint. Reckon I’m going to have to visit the country some time soon… although given the current geopolitical climate, I might have to wait a bit.