A Tale of Two Sisters

Two sisters (Im Soo-jung and Moon Geun-young) suspect there’s something off about their stepmother (Yum Jung-ah) when they open the fridge door to find a bloody fish next to the peanut butter. Disgusting I know – who keeps peanut butter in the fridge?!

Kim Jee-woon (I Saw The Devil) adapts this South Korean folktale with Shining precision and Orphanage emotion, delivering psychological terror that chills you like a fridge and guts you like a fish. His influences range from J-Horror to The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, understanding that mental anguish forms the heart of all good ghost stories. The horror is internal yet visceral, its disjointed ghouls ultimately making their way to Hollywood without the emotion that made them scary in the first place. The jump scares too are masterfully handled, coming out of nowhere instead of being signposted for safety.

The other major difference between this 2003 offering and American imitators is the aesthetic quality, beautiful and colourful where so many Western efforts are ugly and wan – nominative determinism in the case of James Wan. It also benefits from unnerving ambiguity and fragmented exposition, another diversion from US counterparts so desperate to explain the nonsensical. The sisters’ sense of displacement is palpable, the delirium-inducing wallpaper and male complicity (Kim Kap-soo plays the distant father) echoing Gilman’s short story. The uniformly perfect performances are precisely directed by Jee-woon, creating a kind of doppler effect in the way one sister will glance just slightly after the other.

A gem of the scary Asian girl subgenre, A Tale of Two Sisters is the kind of subtle, insidious horror you read about on posters but seldom actually see.

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