One of the key attractions about the horror genre is the dual identification we share with both the predator and the prey. The helpless victims physically resemble us, as well as sharing our fears and anxietes, and yet the destructive nature of the monster is always so entertaining that we revel in the pain that it causes. With Chaw (Jeong-won Shin, South Korea, 2009), the monster in question is a huge, mutated killer boar, hellbent on terrorising the inhabitants of a small village in South Korea. These inhabitants seem mostly concerned about upholding the nice reputation of their village as opposed to actually caring about their safety, so when the boar comes calling there is enjoyment to be had at their expense. Each character is made to appear eccentric and with their own peculiar mannerisms, cementing this story as a black comedy rather than a straight up thriller; how you couldn’t at least chuckle at the thought of a giant boar is beyond me.
The primal instinct of the raging animal is to find as much food as it possibly can and devour it in a suitably grizzly fashion. Similarly, man’s first instinct when faced with such a threat is to bring out the big guns, and this is done post-haste with the arrival of hunters, armed to kill and ready for a fight.
The remainder of the film takes us away from the village and its colourful characters, and into the trees and mountains where a final confrontation with the beast that has been plaguing the lands is inevitable. The proceedings become less entertaining once the humans become capable of fighting back,with events swiftly devolving into a series of chase sequences in which the predator and prey are rarely seen in the same frame together. Twenty minutes of monotonous action and one cringeworthy explosion scene later, we find ourselves coming out of the other side wondering if we should have rooted for the boar to the very end. Some of the setpieces are wildly ambitious and often reminiscent of Alien, ensuring that this film has the potential to be big. Unfortunately for Chaw, bigger is not necessarily better.
After the loud gnashing and screaming of that particular film, the still, snowy setting of North (Rune Denstad Langlo, Norway, 2009) gave an altogether different viewing experience. Jomar is a ski instructor who, after his wife runs off with his best friend, chooses to isolate himself in the mountains. One day, however, his cabin burns to the ground, and he is compelled to take a journey across the vast, empty landscape stretched out before him in a quest for self-discovery.
Along the way, he meets a wide variety of characters, including a small girl, a confused adolescent and a lonely old man. From each of these highly entertaining and touching encounters, Jomar learns something about himself and changes, and it’s fair to say that each person he meets changes at the same time. The foreboding yet welcome sight of the white mountains is captured beautifully, especially in one scene in which Jomar skis down an enormous slope; looking on from a distance, we watch all shades of grey disappear, leaving Jomar appearing as if he is falling through a blank canvas. At 78 minutes, North never overstays its welcome, and the journey is so contemplative and full of event that we feel as if we could remain Jomar’s companions for a while longer. An experience to savour.