Grimmfest: Midnight (2021)

Director: Kwon Oh-seung

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Ki-joo Jin, Wi Ha-Joon, Hae-yeon Kil, Park Hoon, Kim Hye-Yoon

In the film's opening moments, writer/director Kwon Oh-seung sets the scene exceptionally well. Leaving her work late at night, a woman walks home after the last taxi is taken, only for a mysterious man to offer her a ride. The woman declines although, upon walking away, she hears cries of help coming from the car. Her curiosity gets the better of her, and this act becomes the last thing she'll ever do.

Emerging from the car is the mysterious man, who's name is Do Shik (Wi Ha-Joon), Having silenced another life, he covers it up by putting on a distraught act while calling the police. It's a formidable way to set-up the killer and leaves audiences to wonder who he'll target next. His next attempts to claim a victim are interrupted by a deaf mother and Kyung-mi (Jin Ki-joo), her deaf daughter. As a result, Do Shik's wrath becomes redirected to the pair instead.

A vital part of this feature, Wi Ha-Joon wonderfully conveys how intimidating and manipulative this antagonist can be. While he plays to the people by smooth-talking them where necessary, it's all a mask to hide the character's chilling nature and get his own way. The scene which sticks most is when Do Shik's in his element, stalking his prey while more potential victims cross his path and the murderer becomes spoilt for choice as to who he should attack.

Working in the sign-language area of customer service, Kyung-mi takes any opportunity to join in which is why she partakes in a company meal to charm sexist customers. Prior to her nightmarish evening, her biggest fear is being left out due to being hearing impaired, a trait she shares with her mother. They plan to take a holiday together, and while they're undoubtedly close, one feels their loneliness outside of that relationship.

Thankfully, this pair are never treated as mere props for the unfolding plot. The film occurs from their viewpoints, showcasing the obstacles they have to face which are worsened in this life-or-death scenario. This is especially true of Kyung-mi when she's trying to expose the killer, as this woman unable to communicate through speech is left disbelieved and ignored in favour of the smooth-talking man. It's all too familiar that she just wants to be listened to, though it's saddening how she feels so alone even when the streets are busy, and Jin Ki-joo expresses this masterfully.

Another part to the story is Jong Tak (Park Hoon), an overly-protective brother who's on a mission to find his sister by any means possible. While it's an engaging part of the overall story, it's comparatively a less interesting aspect to the cat-and-mouse game occurring. What's fascinating is how the film adapts to the victim's inability to hear her would-be assailant, such as utilising sensors to effectively heighten the tension. While there's much convenient plotting, it doesn't take away from how tense and electric this thriller manages to be.

Midnight previously played at Grimmfest