“Our Town” takes the tried and tested serial killer genre and gives it a bit of a shake up by offering the viewer not one, but two crazy murderers on the rampage. Although this may sound like a somewhat desperate gimmick, first time director Jung Gil Young uses this unusual premise to craft a taut, sick thriller which provides an intriguing look into the minds of murderers.
The film is set in a small, unnamed town in Korea where four women have been found butchered and strung up. The case is being investigated by detective Jae Shin (Lee Seon Gyun, recently in “A Cruel Attendance” and “The Great White Tower”) and is proving difficult to solve, not least since it appears that a copycat may in fact have committed the most recent murder. Rather inconveniently, the prime suspect is in fact Jae Shin’s friend, the down and out, hard drinking mystery writer Kyung Joo (Oh Man Seok, also in “Soo” and “The Man in the Vineyard”), who certainly seems connected to the bloody crimes. However, although Kyung Joo is undoubtedly guilty of something and is clearly harbouring some dark secrets from the past, the real killer is in fact lurking in the shadows, planning his own sinister campaign.
“Our Town” is an ambitious mix of genres, with director Jung working in elements of crime thriller, detective mystery, horror shocker and psychological character drama to create a darkly unique and original film. The two killer premise works very well, and the film plays out like a three way game of cat and mouse, with plenty of twists and turns thrown in along the way to keep things relatively unpredictable. Jung frequently toys with viewer expectations and is quite sly in his use of misdirection, showing a good knowledge of the material and genre cinematic techniques, though thankfully he never overplays his hand, and the film comes across as being clever and challenging rather than frustrating.
Since the identities of the killers are never in any doubt (if nothing else, they are pictured on the DVD box, which is a shame as viewers completely unaware of who is who would likely be considerably more shocked by the film’s first half hour), the mystery comes in form of the motives behind and the messages intended by the murders, and the link between the three men. This is arguably far more engaging than the usual structure for such films, which tends only to revolve around the police hunting down an obscure murderer. Here, although things tie together a little too neatly in the end, the film works as a great exercise in the suspension of disbelief, as Jung creates his own twisted little universe in which the plot makes horribly perfect sense.
It is obviously quite a brave move for any film to focus on killers as characters, and indeed “Our Town” features no real sympathetic protagonist or figure for the viewer to identify with. There is no quest for redemption, or indeed any real kind of personal journey, and as such the film is a cold, grim affair, with no discernable innocents. Wisely, Jung switches between his characters, weaving their stories skilfully together into a puzzle of sin and deceit, which though disturbing is certainly gripping. It helps that the two murderers both make for interesting characters, with neither being simplistic or unconvincing fiends. Kyung Joo in particular is a fascinating figure, with hints of underlying psychosis right from the start, indulging himself in violent fantasies, and who becomes even less pleasant as things progress and even more skeletons are dragged screaming from their closets.
Jung’s direction is assured and elegant, especially impressive considering that this marks his debut feature. He shows an excellent use of saturated colour, nicely setting the mood and drumming up a suitably eerie and unsettling atmosphere whilst keeping things grounded. It is this believable edge, which really makes the film work, as the viewer is convinced that the twisted story could certainly take place in any town, anywhere. Although the film is slow in places, and could perhaps have done with a little trimming here and there, Jung never loses his focus, and includes a good number of bloody murders to make for an intense, visceral viewing experience.
This also ensures that “Our Town” hits home in the intended fashion, and it stands as an entertainingly grotesque mystery thriller. Of course, it is probably best suited to more adventurous viewers, though for those happy enough to delve into the moral void, a fascinatingly dark journey awaits.
Gil-yeong Jeong (director) / Mo Hong-jin (screenplay)
CAST: Oh Man-seok … Kyeong-jo
Lee Seon-gyoon … Jae-sin
Ryoo Deok-hwan … Hyo-i
Park Myeong-si … Yeo Sa-jang
Jeong Hye-won … Kim So-yeon
Lee Moo-saeng … Jeong Myeong-bo