Beautifully shot horror films are almost a rarity these days, but when one comes along the cinematography unusually seems to go hand in hand with critical acclaim, from The Shining to A Tale Of Two Sisters to Let The Right One In there is something unnerving about merging the beautiful with the grim and it is a combination which often leads to a brilliant final product. The Isle follows this grand tradition – it has moments of stunning beauty contrasted with gut-churning (literally) scenes of ugly carnage. It doesn’t quite match the quality of those aforementioned examples, but for the curious horror fan its worth dipping your toe in to test the depth.
The Isle is essentially a thriller based around the various relationships of troubled people. Set in a beautifully shot lake where the mute Hee Jin runs some sort of fishing business, she spends her days looking after her patrons who spend days on the lake fishing, and living in man made islands and huts spread over the water. Her past is enigmatic, but there are hints at darkness as she brings in prostitutes to look after her customers, and deals with some shady characters. One such character Hyun-Shik enters the resort and Hee-jin takes an obsessive interest in him. Soon we have suicide attempts via the swallowing of fish hooks, murder, and sexual violence as the two characters become more embroiled in each other’s lives.
A warning for sensitive viewers may be required, as some of the notorious fish hook scenes are fairly tough – I wouldn’t call them gory, but there is a visceral power to the acting, and it all looks very real. Actually real is some violence to animals, including frogs and fish. Beyond the violence, there is a coldness which fans of Kim-Ki-duk’s films will be familiar with. The films I’ve seen by him all deal with fractured relationships which lead to horrific violence, and although there is a taut emotional grip, there is still a detached coldness which usually leaves the viewer numb. The Isle leaves much to the imagination, with a bare plot and sparse dialogue – personally I felt too distant from the action to either be affected or totally engaged by them, though it was nevertheless interesting. Rather than a participant, I felt like a fisherman on one of the distant floating islands, squinting through the mist at what was going on at the other side of the lake. It’s an unusual one to recommend – horror fans will likely be bored by the long phases between violence or action, while drama lovers will be put off by said violence. One for the more broader minded film fan who has an interest in Asian cinema or in the career of Kim-Ki-duk.
Let us know in the comments if you have seen The Isle and what you made of it!