At The Movies

Thrillers shine spotlight on psyche of victims and bullies

A lawyer confronts her painful past in the film Innocence while Unhinged portrays a woman-hater bent on abuse

This week, two films put damaged persons at the centre of the story. In the first, a survivor of childhood abuse has to make a reckoning with her past and, in the other, a man hurt by divorce unleashes his anger on an unlucky woman.

South Korean legal thriller Innocence (PG13, 90 minutes, opens today, 3/5 stars ) mistakes noisy acting for big emotions, but makes up for it with strong moments of courtroom and investigative drama.

Brilliant young lawyer Jung-in (Shin Hye-sun) travels from Seoul to her backwater birthplace after the family she left behind is implicated in a murder. In trying to free her mother from a murder charge, she is frustrated at every turn by local authorities, who seem strangely reluctant to pursue leads that might clear her mother's name.

That prodigal daughter-versus-locals theme is supplemented by characters pulled from the Korean drama serial playbook, such as the tragic, dementia-addled mother (Bae Jong-ok) and autistic brother, both of whom exist mainly as hankie-fodder in scenes showing them harassed by cops and prosecutors.

Jung-in is herself a survivor of abuse, a trait that in the story has left its mark by giving her a particularly steely glare and an unconquerable will, showing that in Korean drama land, what does not kill you drives you to succeed in your career.

In Unhinged (NC16, 93 minutes, now showing, 3/5 stars ), single mother Rachel (Caren Pistorius) has a scary but all-too-common exchange of words with another driver at a stop sign. That driver, Tom (Russell Crowe), as the title of the movie suggests, is the kind who expects his chivalry - what others would see as simple decency - to be rewarded with effusive feminine gratitude.

Crowe's character, a human tank fuelled by hate, is the best thing about the film, which takes the urban nightmare character of the road-rager and squeezes a thin but workable chase movie out of it.

Tom is the misogynist who takes his Internet taunts into real life. As mass shootings in North America have proven, men like him are all too real - a fact that the screenplay works seamlessly into the story without making his verbalised ideas sound like a placard or a Reddit post about men's rights.

Crowe and Pistorius, as the relentless hunter and terrified prey, play off each other well.

The film fails, as so many of these urban thriller projects do, when it ditches psychological terror for physical combat, wasting the hard-earned suspense of the first two acts on a finale that befits a C-grade slasher movie.

Other films opening this week but not reviewed include the romance The Secret: Dare To Dream (PG, 107 minutes, opens today), based on the 2006 best-selling self-help book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. The book's maxims are personified in Miranda (Katie Holmes), a single mother who meets the mysterious Bray (Josh Lucas), a man who will change her life.

Shin Hye-sun plays a lawyer trying to clear her family's name in a murder case in Innocence.  PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Russell Crowe is a raging driver in urban thriller Unhinged.  PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT

In Japanese horror-thriller Signal 100 (R21, 88 minutes, opens today), a high-school classroom becomes a scene of carnage after students watch a film embedded with hypnotic suggestions, causing them to kill themselves one by one. The survivors race against time to decode the messages or be the next to die.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2020, with the headline 'Thrillers shine spotlight on psyche of victims and bullies'. Print Edition | Subscribe