REVIEW: Midnight (2021)

dir. Oh-Seung Kwon

When young deaf woman Kyung Mi (an instantly likeable Jin Ki-joo) and her mother interrupt a sadistic murderer (Wi Ha-joon), what ensues is an intense game of cat and mouse in Oh-Seung Kwon’s edge-of-your-seat serial killer thriller.

Cinema from South Korea tends to be inherently unique to the culture it comes from, frequently combining anxiety-inducing action with emotional gut-punches. In this vein Midnight takes the basic recipe of a typical killer-versus-victim trope and adds some serious spice. Antagonist Do-shik is so twisted – played by Ha-joon with a cold intelligence that lacks explanation – and yet at moments shows glimmers of humanity and reason. The result formulates a villain worthy of horror infamy, joining the likes of John Doe from Se7en and Hannibal Lector.

The character of Kyung Mi is also compelling, since as a person who is deaf they must already navigate a culture where things are inherently more difficult. These challenges – and their solutions – are laid out early with Kyung Mi having to deal with ignorant work colleagues and the threat of not being able to hear oncoming traffic, director Kwon enveloping audiences into this silent and frustrating world. Compared to another deaf-centric film, Hush – directed by Mike Flanagan – this South Korean counterpart is more imaginative in its devices of a main character’s disability, though unfortunately – much like Hush – the deaf lead is played by a non-deaf actor, and so the representation feels transparent and performative. 

Despite this Midnight is a shining example of what Korean cinema does best. Drawing its audience in from the opening scene, it holds them captive – much like the victims of Do-shik – imploring viewers to chase through the neon-lit streets of Seoul along with Kyung Mi, hearts thumping until the final, satisfying resolution. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ygraine Hackett-Cantabrana

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