“Acacia” – A.J. Hakari

There are just some movies that you don’t view the eve of a special occasion. It’s not wise to give a copy of The Amityville Horror to a couple moving into their first house. You might not want to watch Hostel when you’re about to travel abroad. Then there’s movies like the Korean chiller Acacia, which, in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, make for pretty good tools in dissuading couples thinking of having a baby. At least that’s the way it seems for a little while, for while half of Acacia is creepy and extremely effective, the second half serves up the sloppiest final scenes and twists since Perfect Stranger reared its ugly head.

After years of trying to conceive a child, well-to-do doctor Do-il (Kim Jin-geun) and his artistic wife Mi-sook (Shim Hye-jin) bite the bullet and decide to adopt a child. Being impressed by some intriguing paintings at a children’s exhibition, Mi-sook decides to adopt the young artist responsible for them, a sullen six-year-old named Jin-sung (Moon Woo-bin). At first, Jin-sung acts rather strange and withdrawn, carting around a seemingly endless supply of dead bugs and becoming closer with the dead acacia tree in the backyard than with his new family. But when he starts making friends and settling into his new surroundings, Jin-sung starts to emerge from his shell — that is, until Mi-sook becomes unexpectedly pregnant. From then on, the young tyke’s behavior becomes a little more sinister, especially in the presence of his new sibling, leading to a tragic event that hits the family hard…even as the once-decaying acacia tree mysteriously starts to liven up…

Roger Ebert often speaks fondly (or maybe not so much) in his reviews of the notorious Idiot Plot. To paraphrase the great Mr. Ebert, an Idiot Plot is essentially a story that would be over in an instant, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s populated by moronic characters who refuse to say the scant few words that would stop the plot from being prolonged any further. The latter half of Acacia works in this fashion, which is a real shame considering what a fantastic start it gets off to. On the outset, Acacia is a horror/drama that neither depresses you into being sympathetic towards the characters nor attacks you with a barrage of fake-out scares. Director Park Ki-hyun actually tries to meld the two genres, shrouding the story in mystery and coming up with a tantalizing family drama with a tinge of what may or may not be the supernatural. Sometimes, less really is more, a concept that Ki-hyun takes to heart and uses to make Acacia’s first act an enticing one. You really don’t know what the situation is, whether Jin-sung is just an angsty youngster or if his motivations are more demonic, which makes for some truly compelling cinema.

But around the one-hour mark, the Idiot Plot mechanics start to creak as they’re jostled to life, and as Acacia enters its last two acts, the viewer remains unaware that the denouement they’re about to receive will essentially render two-thirds of the whole movie a giant waste of time. Once the big revelation arrives and you see how it plays out against the preceding events, you may be in danger of smacking your own forehead into a concave shape. Here is a film that so overcomplicates the story for itself, it’s literally still explaining what happened even as the final credits roll. So inept is the film in concealing its secrets (*SPOILERS AHEAD!*), to remain completely and utterly surprised, one can’t even look at the DVD cover. Of course, that would require that you not possess the intelligence to put the pieces of the puzzle together yourself before the movie does, something that I doubt is likely to happen, even amongst the least astute viewers. It also doesn’t help that even the film’s most grisly visuals, including a blood-soaked tree, induce more laughs than cringes.

At least Acacia has a solid production design and decent performances (especially from Moon Woo-bin as young, troubled Jin-sung) to fall back on. Even as the story falls apart before your very eyes, the flick has the courtesy to offer up a pleasant distraction from the slowly unfolding disaster that is the rest of the movie.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

One Response to ““Acacia” – A.J. Hakari”

  1. kristin Says:

    Oh come on, AJ…Acacia wasn’t THAT bad.

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