Korean cinema has mastered the art of the killer thriller. Films like I Saw the Devil and The Chaser manipulate their audience with a combination of tension and action that pulse through the screen and elicit a strong reaction of fascination and disgust. Door Lock continues this incredible trend of terror with a tech-infused twist.
The film follows Jo Kyung-min (Kong Hyo-Jin), a quiet and unassuming bank teller who lives alone in a studio. One evening, coming home, she finds the cover of her door lock left open and changes the code. But that night, before she goes to bed, she hears a terrifying sound: “Beep, beep, beep… You have entered the wrong code.” She repeatedly calls the police to alert them that an intruder has come rattling at her chamber door, only to have them downplay her concerns, essentially gaslighting her into the belief that it’s nothing to be worried about.
Of course, there is plenty to be worried about when it comes to her personal safety. Kyung-min is haunted by this night stalker; it becomes an obsession that gradually takes over her life. Door Lock is technically a remake of Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight (a phenomenal film on its own), but the two are so dramatically different that they hardly bear comparison. There are certainly parallels, but they hold their own as separate, unique films.
While Sleep Tight focuses on the villain, Door Lock has a firm focus on its protagonist. Not only does this create a mystery within the story – a “whodunnit”, essentially – but it also allows the audience to empathize with Kyung-min, who must navigate this threat as a young woman in a world filled with overbearing men.
She is expected to be polite, agreeable, and delicate; a passive woman who makes no fuss and smiles along through awkward flirtations. She sets up her apartment to look as though a man lives there with her, just in the interest of her own safety. After yet another condescending dismissal from the authorities, Kyung-min — feeling her concerns are not being properly addressed — takes matters into her own hands to try and solve the mystery.
Violence is woven through the film, but it’s not gratuitous; it acts more as a warning of the danger that follows Kyung-min. It amps up the tension and keeps the audience on edge, knowing the horrific fate that lies before her. Visually, the cold, harsh urban scape is alienating, reflecting the isolation that Kyung-min feels.
The door locks in Kyung-min’s building are mechanical, so anyone with the proper code or key fob could gain access to her home. This concept is pretty terrifying; you don’t know who could have your code without your knowledge. Physical keys are harder to copy, but any observant individual could easily learn or guess your combination. This tactic conveniently allows for some astute detective work on Kyung-min’s part, driving the story forward and into some dark, dangerous places.
Door Lock preys on the idea that any interaction you have could be misconstrued by the wrong person. What starts as an infatuation can flourish to a full-blown obsession with dangerous consequences. According to a study by the University of Gloucestershire, stalking behavior has been identified in 94% of murders; it’s a sobering statistic.
Brilliantly directed by Kwon Lee, Door Lock prickles with anxiety; it strips away the safety and comfort of your own home and paints the walls with the worst case scenario. It’s a captivating and compelling film that brilliantly explores the dark and unpredictable side of human nature. The scariest thing about the film is that you could easily see it happen to you; if you live alone, it’s downright terrifying.
If you’re interested in a good creeping, chilling thriller, definitely check this one out. And don’t forget to lock your doors.
Door Lock is playing as part of Fantasia Festival’s 2019 lineup. For more films, check out their website or keep an eye out for our reviews.