Have you ever had a fear of somebody entering your home when you are not there or when you are asleep, without you realising they were ever there? If so, director Lee Kwon is here to bring your fear to thrilling life with his latest film “Door Lock”. It is one of two films playing at Fantasia International Film Festival 2019 that stars actress Gong Hyo-jin, the other being “Hit-and-Run-Squad”.

Door Lock” is screening at Fantasia International Film Festival

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“Door Lock” is a film that is very hard to talk about without giving away spoilers, but I will attempt to do so anyway: Kyeong-min is a non-regular bank employee who has a nagging feeling that someone is messing about with the electronic door lock on her studio apartment, the kind that are very common all over Korea. Her suspicions soon get confirmed when she coincidentally sees someone trying to open her door while she is inside. Trying to involve the police proves useless, since they claim they cannot do anything without evidence or start an investigation over something that could just as well have been a drunk person at the wrong door. The police, however, do take notice when a murder takes place at the apartment and take Kyeong-min in as a suspect. After she’s released for lack of evidence, Kyeong-min and her friend Hyo-ju take it upon themselves to find out if her paranoia holds solid ground and who the literal monster under her bed is.

Director Lee Kwon, along with his co-scriptwriter Park Jeong-hee, takes a very real-world “what if” scenario and builds a highly suspenseful, thrilling story around it. Having seen these locks often in Korean movies and K-Dramas, I’ve wondered myself how secure these could be and Lee Kwon attacks the very heart of that question. The film is based on the Spanish film “Sleep Tight”, but where that film told the story from the perpetrator’s perspective, “Door Lock” instead relies on the point-of-view of the victim. What it also manages to do well is comment not just on the housing system in South Korea, but also on the employment system, stalking and even briefly on the “bystander syndrome” that was so well portrayed in the Lee Sung-min starring “The Witness”. Female viewers especially might be able to relate to the film a lot more.

There are scares, but they are built through tension rather than jump-scares. As the tension keeps building, the scares move to include genuine nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat suspense. The scene in the rundown house that Kyeong-min and Hyo-ju find on their quest, for example, is a great example of the same, as is the climactic showdown. Twists in the tale come in thick and fast and while the big reveal might be predictable for fans of the genre, the film manages to keep them fresh and surprising for the most part. When revealed, the perpetrator’s modus operandi and his reasons for doing what he does make complete sense.

There is not a lot that the film does wrong, but if one were to nitpick, the way it portrays males, with most of them having the possibility of being a stalker, pervert, rapist or all of the above, could be slightly off-putting for some sections of the audience. Even the otherwise decent police officer Detective Lee, a knight in shining armour for the most part, fails to take the women seriously and genuinely believes she was capable of the murder that occurs in her apartment for a long time. 

A thriller needs the right cinematography and music to set the mood and feel of the film just right, and cinematographer Park Jung-hoon successfully manages to create the sense of paranoia required for the film. Where a lot of movies of the genre tend to delve in the dark and take the scares from the dark cinematography, “Door Lock” refreshingly is quite bright and set a lot in the daylight. Even the nighttime indoor and outdoor scenes are appropriately lit. Dalpalan’s excellent score is a highlight as well, helping to keep the tension up a few notches in each scene.

A big reason the film works so well is the casting of Gong Hyo-jin. Known domestically as “Gongvely” (An amalgamation of her name and the word “lovely”), she doesn’t do many films but when she does, they’re usually worth keeping an eye out for, and “Door Lock” shows you why. She embodies the everyday woman perfectly, bringing them face-to-face with their worst fears. Her expressive face, when changing from a damsel in distress to a woman resolute in finding things out for herself before getting in too deep over her head, is a joy to watch. Kim Ye-won is efficient as Kyeong-min’s colleague and best friend Gong-ju and Jo Bok-rae is effectively creepy as Kyeong-min’s stalker Gi-jung, but Kim Sung-oh once again, along with “Unstoppable” last year, is first rate as Detective Lee. It is very satisfying to see his growth as an actor in the last few years, after getting more prominent roles.

While it may seem that the thriller genre is getting slightly dried up in South Korean cinema with repetitive themes and styles, “Door Lock”, as well as “The Witness”, made 2018 a strong year for the genre and remains one of the better films of the season. Do not lock this one out.