Acacia

An artist and her obstetrician husband live a comfortable suburban life, but have been unable to conceive a child and with the wife’s body clock ticking they decide to adopt. They settle upon a quiet, intelligent and artistically gifted young boy named Jin-seong who spends most of his time drawing quietly under an old tree at the local orphanage. Things appear to be going well although the 6 year old Jin-seong is a little odd and spends most of his time with the long dead acacia tree in the couple’s back yard. However, the couple manage to conceive a child of their own and things take a decidedly darker turn in the household.

Poor orphaned Jin-seong; a child with almost semi autistic ways is never quite able to fit in, his distant manner and quiet intelligence mean he is never going to be the couples dream child. They do, however, share some loving moments and life seems happy enough. His adopted Grandfather who lives with the couple seems to be closest to him while the wife’s Mother is very unkind talking as though he is not there and desperately voicing the opinion that there is still time for the couple to have a “real” child of their own. The sickly 8 year old girl from next door becomes Jin-seong’s close friend and together they while away their time riding Jin’s bike and sitting under the acacia. One night Jin overhears a phone conversation and, feeling spurned by his adopted mother, cycles off into the night. The days pass and Jin does not return and at the same time the seemingly dead acacia begins to grow leaves and finally blooms and as the smell of the blossom drifts through the family home life deteriorates for its' inhabitants

All the performances are strong, particularly the children with miniature lead Jin-seong (Mun Oh-bin), who was just 6 years old at the time the film was released in Korea, giving an astonishing performance for a child of that age. Quite probably the creepiest child since the Omen films, but at the same time Oh-bin and the director manage to play it just right so although he is odd and creepy in some way’s he is also very vulnerable, lost and tragic, there’s no “Mu Ha haa” cartoon evil here.

South Korean movie Acacia is one of those films that for the most part relies on giving very normal things a creepy spin; tree’s, paintings, wool, children and bicycles become objects of fear. The whole thing is shot in an aesthetically pleasing and clever way, with the carefully chosen shots adding to the films dark feeling. The film opts for a traditional score and some very well used sound effects, which is very effective and really helps set the tone of the piece. The film, however, loses it’s chance at being a work of genius for two main reasons; the first and maybe the lesser sin is the editing, which leaves the film feeling a bit choppy at times (scenes don’t seem to slide together well enough, which might not matter in a slasher-type horror but in a mood driven piece its very important,) the second problem with this film is in my opinion the script needed another rewrite, the basic premise is fantastic but it feels rough around the edges and as this is a story, mood driven piece the story needs to be a little more cohesive. The film, although a little surreal and certainly a touch weird, is not “out there” enough for the viewer to just dismiss the plot in a kind of “Oh well its another weird Asian flick” way. The couples change in behaviour to each other with the stress of the situation and the influence of the Acacia tree, whilst explainable, doesn’t have the right build up. I’m not sure if this is script, editing or cutting room floor related but its very noticeable and a great opportunity to add a powerful element to the film is lost, leaving you with the feeling of something which has been rushed.

Editing and script issues aside, Acacia has a great basic concept and still manages at times to be very effective in its creepy tone and style. The way the mostly inanimate objects are given such a sinister feel is fantastic, especially the dark and foreboding presence of the Acacia tree itself. Even when the tree has rejuvenated from it's dead form and goes into bloom something which should be a thing of beauty remains the stuff of nightmares. Although the movie has similarities in feel to many other Asian particularly new wave Japanese horror films (No need to mention them here, I am pretty sure you all know what I mean,) it avoids the use of cheap jump scenes and twisty ghosts for the most part, although it is guilty of giving the characters short dream sequences to spice up the fear levels. These, though, are for the most part pretty effective. Certainly some of the twisty plot elements are great and will leave many viewers guessing right to the end, although the various twists and plot revelations are part of the movie's charm and not the “one trick wonder” crap that has certain elements hailing the ridiculously overrated M. Night Shyamalan as a genius.

This movie has no doubt only seen the light of day in the west to ride the tsunami of Asian horror as more and more DVD labels dig deeper to find products to release, however while it has it’s failings, it is an effective little movie and should not be written off as just another cash-in on the genres current popularity. For those that rent it’s probably better to do so than buy with this one, as some people will hate it’s slow place, but for those with some patience and the ability to forgive its obvious flaws there's still some great touches to be found here.

Lackluster editing and a slightly ragged script mean this film fails to achieve creepy child genius, but it's still got to be the best "Boy and his tree", movie ever made 7/10