Many ominous events take place in the titular woods of the South Korean chiller Spider Forest. After coming upon a cabin with two mutilated bodies abandoned inside, TV producer Kang Min (Gam Woo-sung) engages in a scuffle with the mystery man responsible for the murders. But upon pursuing the killer into the night, Kang ends up being hit by a car and spending the next two weeks or so in a coma.
Kang awakens to find that his memories are all in a shambles — not the best position to be in when the police are eager to find out why a couple of corpses have been stashed in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Bit by bit, Kang starts to remember the events leading up to his accident, recalling how his research into the supposedly haunted “Spider Forest” involved him in a bizarre investigation centering on an unseen stalker, a mysterious photo shop girl (Suh Jung), and Kang’s own girlfriend/colleague (Kyeong-heon Kang).
Spider Forest is different from most Asian horror imports popping up stateside in recent years. This one is more along the lines of A Tale of Two Sisters, a mindbender of a thriller that packs a dramatic punch. But just like Sisters, Spider Forest mistakes pretension for suspense and serves up a payoff that doesn’t payoff. The film fails to stake out new territory. It treads where others have gone but without the strength to pack much of a punch. It also shifts tones too often. As soon as you get used to Spider Forest being one thing, there’s a jarring transition when it suddenly goes off on another tangent. Is it a horror movie or a detective story? Too bad it’s not clever enough to combine both of these genres into one cool, cohesive package. I adore thrillers that play with my mind, films that take an unconventional route and keep me on the edge of my seat. But whereas such movies as Mulholland Drive and Memento (still among my all-time top ten) engaged me with offbeat storytelling and sympathetic characters, Spider Forest slips up by draping its plot in too much confusion.
Spider Forest also feels slow and tiresome at times. It takes a neat supernatural tale with a noirish edge and makes it a chore to watch. The main problem is that writer/director Song Il-gon never really backs up his choice in storytelling. He neglects to give the viewer a reason why everything is all messed up in the first place. Most of Spider Forest is told in flashback, as a bruised and battered Kang scans his memory to piece together the puzzle of what led to stumbling upon the murders. However, these events could have been set in the order of a more standard thriller with equal or even better effect. And although the big, revelatory ending is in the tradition of throwing the audience a curveball, most viewers will probably have it figured out five minutes into the film. Sadly, Spider Forest doesn’t offer much in terms of other elements to enjoy either. Still, the acting is solid, with an involving turn from Gam Woo-sung as the puzzled Kang, and the cinematography lends the story a much-needed creepy aura. But the score is an amateurish mess, the twists in the story are telegraphed, and the dialogue seems possessed by the same pseudo-philosophical spirit displayed by most of the rest of the film.
While Spider Forest comes across as a cash-in copycat of filmmaker David Lynch’s style, it’s missing the same richness of atmosphere, textured characters, and the ability to leave viewers talking about it for days on end.