The most entertaining thing about “Acacia” isn’t the movie itself, which is mostly dull, plodding, and not very scary even though it’s billed as a horror film. It’s also not the movie’s Big Reveal, which is so obvious that when all the secrets are revealed, only the most dense viewer will be shocked. The only thing worth noting is that the filmmakers have come up with the most number of Pan-and-Reveal Moments in recent memory. Such a moment involves the camera slowly panning to reveal someone appearing out of nowhere in the background. When I say that “Acacia” is stuffed with Pan-and-Reveals, I don’t exaggerate.
“Acacia” stars Hye-jin Shim and Jin-geun Kim as a married couple unable to conceive a child. The husband is a doctor and the wife spends her time judging student art and knitting. Things change when the couple adopts six-year-old Jin-seong (Oh-bin Mun), a quiet boy obsessed with drawing pictures of an acacia tree that he believes is the reincarnation of his dead mother. The family goes through some rough patches, but eventually a semblance of happiness is achieved. That is, until Mi-sook becomes pregnant, setting off a chain of events that ends disastrously when, one rainy night, Jin-seong goes missing.
Although “Acacia” is billed as a horror film, I’m not sure if it qualifies. There’s very little actual supernatural things going on, even if director Ki-Hyung Park (“Whispering Corridors”) keeps inserting breathing sounds whenever we see the acacia tree, in the couple’s backyard, in close-up. Then again, I’m not entirely sure if cutting to the tree every other minute qualifies as mood. Oh sure, the tree looks foreboding in its dying and decrepit state, but instead of thinking, “Wow, that tree sure is spooky,” I kept thinking, “Man, why doesn’t someone chop that tree down? It’s an eyesore.”
As a South Korean horror film, “Acacia’s” cast is appropriate. Mind you, I don’t think the acting is exceptional, just that one gets used to seeing characters in South Korean horror films moving about as little as possible and acting generally very passive, exuding little overt emotion until it’s time to shriek in horror. And no, it’s not subtlety, it’s just listless acting. In a funny scene that relates to this point, Mi-sook’s mother comments to her daughter, in the aftermath of Jin-seong’s disappearance, that Mi-sook “looks better”. To which I have to ask: How can she tell? Actress Hye-jin Shim has a permanent dour look on her face from opening scene to the closing credit!
There’s also the role of Do-il’s father, who seems to exist for the sake of adding to the movie’s very limited bodycount. The father dies by way of CGI ants, including one ant that, having burrowed its way into the old man’s eye, literally pops its way back out. Good stuff. The rest of the film consists of Shock Flashes, where characters dream of/envision supernatural events that is all in their mind. Of course each of these Shock Flashes are accompanied by loud shrieking music needed to wake the audience up in case they fell asleep during all the ponderously uninteresting moments throughout the film.
If dull storytelling, listless acting, and uninspired narrative are not your cup of tea, “Acacia’s” superb cinematography, courtesy of Hyeon-je Oh (in his debut) is worth a look. The film goes through a number of visual changes, offering the movie a variety of moods achieved through creative tints and filters. The camerawork is also a big plus, flawlessly moving between locations and scene transitions. In particular the film’s Big Reveal, which flashes back and forth in time, and doing it all with seamless efficiency.
“Acacia” is not entirely a bad film. It might have worked as a drama/thriller, but not as a horror film. When all is said and done, the film’s supernatural elements come up moot because they can all be explained as figments of various characters’ imaginations. Unfortunately the Big Reveal is painfully obvious, and there’s just not enough here to sustain a 110-minute movie.
Ki-Hyung Park (director) / Ki-Hyung Park (screenplay)
CAST: Hye-jin Shim …. Mi-sook
Jin-geun Kim …. Do-il
Oh-bin Mun …. Jin-seong