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Griffith Maloney [Celluloid 08.15.12] Republic of Korea apocalyptic thriller drama

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The setup of Jeong-woo Park's new film Deranged is apocalyptically grim. South Korea's once pristine rivers and streams begin to fill with the corpses of its citizens and corporate-nobody Jae-hyuk must rush to save the ones he loves. Its a mostly well constructed film of parasitic horror who's main strength lies in its dark portrayal of humans in desperate measures and society in turmoil. Deranged has tension and excitement to spare and even a muddled ending doesn't put a damper on this deadly thrill ride.

At first glance Deranged may bring on flashbacks of the Host for Korean film fans. Both movies are about water born mutants, both show the rising tide of public panic, both focus on the strain and tension put on the family unit by these events. In a political sense both put heavy emphasis on the fallacy of the government in dealing with these types of crisis. However Deranged is the Andromeda Strain to The Host's Godzilla, it's real subject is the fallibility of humans under pressure, the mutant worms are just set dressing. Because Deranged is much more a psychological thriller than a horror movie we spend a lot of time with our characters and their various problems.

It's first half is particularly effective in getting us to care for Jae-hyuk and his family. We learn about his financial woes, his deadbeat cop brother, the strain his current job as office dog and servant to the super wealthy elite. Mostly though we learn how much he loves his family, a family who from the very start of the picture are showing signs of infection, even if Jae-hyuk won't realize it for another 30 minutes. This setup is a great anchor for the audience and gives us something concrete to care out about for the rest of the movie. The scenes of collapsing society are more effective when we experience them with Jae-hyuk's family, chained inside a infected relief center. It's one of the best ways to handle epidemic films and Jeong-woo Park does a great job at it.

There's a special place in my heart for epidemic movies. Ever since I saw Kazan's masterfully made Panic in the Street I've loved the dark and dynamic tension of a population put on edge. People just barely containing, or failing to contain, their own fear and panic. It's a genre of film that doesn't get explored nearly enough, to often folded into the spectacle laced disaster films. Deranged for the most part manages to hold onto the dark psychological edge of epidemic movies by focusing on our main characters and their internal struggles more than on the disastrous fallout of the horsehair worm mutants. We learn much more about the true mettle and worth of Jae-hyuk and his brother than we ever learn about the evil monster worms.

Park makes a great choice in having the cause of this panic be visible to the naked eye. It's a nice change of pace from the "invisible killer" tactic of films like Outbreak. It's particularly effective because the huge worm parasites are absolutely cringe inducing. The gross medical shots of them slithering through the water or wrapped tightly around a patients intestines made me never want to touch undercooked meat again. As if real parasites weren't upsetting enough the mutant horse hair worms follow the same reproductive system as their real-life counter parts. They absorb nutrients from their host and when they're ready to reproduce they infect the brains of their victims causing them to drown themselves in water so the worms can wriggle out of the bodies and spawn freely in the body of water. In concept it is absolutely disgusting...

There is one downside to these monsters though, the CGI just isn't good enough. We don't get to see the worms much, so this isn't a deal breaker but they could've just as easily used practical effects in creating them and it would've felt more real. The rest of the effects aren't great either. There is one scene, later in the film, involving a burning building and I just couldn't stop myself from laughing. The CGI flames are some of the worst I've seen in a big budget feature like this. They look like some intern painted them over the negative. Luckily Park only uses his CGI occasionally and most of the film is grounded in effective, tension building drama. The few corpses that we get to see are morbidly well prepared and the shots of water logged corpses blocking the waterways of the city are suitably grim.

It's a shame that such a strong movie has such a relatively weak ending. The script tries to take on a little bit to much by mixing all of its stories together into a big mutant worm soup which leads to an unfortunately divided ending. Because we're trying to follow the human stories as well as the societal struggles we can't really feel connected to any of our characters. There's just to much explanation to cram into the last thirty minutes of the movie. As we attempt to wrap up every loose end in sight we loose track of what makes the film really compelling, the relationship that Jae-hyuk has with his family. The love and care that propelled him through this move deserves to be validated in a stronger way then Park does here. It's an effective and taut thriller but it stumbles a bit near the finish line.

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