With the entire craze of Asian Ghost Horror movies that hit the US not even a decade ago, its no surprise that films like "The Red Shoes" would appear on shelves. Despite some valiant efforts to make itself original, this Korean film suffers a bit too much of being too much like many of the other creepy as shit ghost stories in the last handful of years. It's still a solid and pretty damn scary watch, but don't expect it to rewrite the genre.
Sun-Jae had an odd family relationship. Her husband is disinterested with her and her daughter worships the ground on which he walks. She delves herself into her shoe collection that she has built. That doesn't stop her from leaving him when she finds him unfaithful to her. Thusly, mother and daughter, Tae-Soo, are off on their own finding a new (and fairly crummy) apartment close to the subway as her new eye clinic is being built. When a mysterious pair of high heal shoes appear on the subway one day though, Sun-Jae finds herself obsessed with them. Too obsessed. Now she must unravel a strange curse that is tied (no pun intended) to the shoes before it ends up killing her and her daughter. This isn't going to be a kick back time for anyone.
So if you actually read that synopsis of the film, then you can obviously see where it comes off as cliche. Cursed item by a ghost out for vengeance comes after the protagonist whom must solve the mystery of the ghost's life and death to rid themselves of it before they die. Yadda yadda yadda. Blah blah blah. Same old, same old. Pile that with some super cheesy flashbacks of the ghost as a living person and we have ourselves a sure fire piece of junk.
Luckily, "The Red Shoes" doesn't leave it at that. In fact, it has a few reasons to be unique and quite impressive. Firstly, the acting is pretty top notch. The mother and daughter combo is chemistry and sparks waiting to happen and our male protagonist (the office interior designer and pseudo-new boyfriend) oozes enough of his own charm. They sell some of the more cliche moments well. Secondly, we have nice solid atmosphere. Most American Horror movie makers should take more notes from the Asian section of the genre here. Even with its cliche and rather 'seen it all before' story, "The Red Shoes" slags on enough atmosphere that when we do get the moments of gore or creepiness its amplified ten fold. The use of gore in particular is quite impressive. And thirdly, as the last saving point of this film, is director Yong-gyun Kim, whose spectacular visuals make it worth watch. He loves to fuck with the viewers focus by blurring edges, or off setting the center of the camera, or even throwing viewers gazes in directions where they shouldn't actually be looking to make the scares and the story work. Who knew that he could, with the use of atmosphere and a wonderfully offsetting score, make women's shoes so scary?
Alas, though at times the film does come off as rather too ambiguous in its telling to leave the impact it could have had. With Sun-Jae's nightmare visions blurring the lines of reality towards the end, the viewer ends up more confused than truly intrigued by whats happening. The almost too artistic for its own good approach to its finale of the story of Sun-Jae makes some of the payoff for the rest of the film a bit of a let down though. It leaves room for tons of symbolic work and wonderfully fucked up visuals, but feels rather too spattered for its own good.
"The Red Shoes" is a nice addition for your collection if you love those creepy as hell ghost stories that the Asian countries do so well, but its hardly the best out there. Its got great visual prowess and acting to boot, but its cliche story and rather ambiguous moments will leave you wondering what you saw rather than being scared of what you didn't see.
BONUS RANT: So for a movie called "The Red Shoes" that has a wonderfully vague bloody red shoe on the cover, it took me a while to get used to the fact that the shoes in the movie WERE FUCKING PINK. Perhaps it was some sort of symbolic move having all the characters refer to the shoes as red EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE PINK, but they didn't explain that at all. At first I thought perhaps I was color blind, missed something, or I was just stupid waiting to see if the shoes would get more red as each person that came into contact with them perished, but after finishing the film and writing my main part of the review, I looked it up and other people's reviews also make mention that THEY ARE PINK. So I am going to have to go with the idea that it was supposed to be something symbolic. WHOOSH! I guess that went right over my head. Seeing pink shoes as red. What the hell. I still don't get it. The deaths maybe? The gore? Who fucking knows. I'm just going to leave it be.
Written By Matt Reifschneider