Anyway, today's post was written by my friend Jeremy Clymer (his blog can be found here) who watched the excellent Korean horror movie Thirst, which incidentally is one of my favorites to come out recently. Here he is, and maybe I'll post a few thoughts on the movie in the comments.
The best horror movies aren’t about scaring audiences; they’re about telling a story. The Shining is ostensibly about a haunted hotel, and yeah that makes it spooky. Underneath the surface, though, it’s really about alcoholism and domestic violence, and that’s what gives it its power. Jack Nicholson is so widely revered for his acting in that movie because he is utterly believable as a man who would get drunk and beat the shit out of his wife and kid, and that makes him terrifying to watch. A lot of modern directors and screenwriters have forgotten about the storytelling aspect of horror movies. That’s why we get movies like Paranormal Activity 3, which is really just about how many times the director can make audiences jump with cheap camera tricks.
Park Chan-wook is a director who knows how to tell a story. You might remember a little movie he did called Oldboy, which just happened to be far and away the best revenge thriller of all time. It was not only gorgeously shot but also extremely well-written, and the same can be said for Thirst. On the surface level, Thirst is a vampire movie, and a very stylish one at that. Beneath the surface, though, it is a gripping story about addiction and codependency. The true horror of the movie does not come from vampires sucking people’s blood, because frankly we’ve seen that a million times before. It comes from watching a doomed relationship spiral out of control, and all the collateral damage that occurs as a result.
Thirst follows the story of Sang-hyun, a Catholic priest who volunteers for a vaccine study that he knows will probably end in his suffering a painful and gruesome death. Instead, he ends up making a seemingly miraculous recovery after receiving a blood transfusion. There’s an unfortunate side effect to this recovery, though: he has to continuously drink the blood of others or else the disease he was infected with will quickly return.. Despite his newfound addiction, Sang-hyun continues to try to be a good and moral person. He only drinks the blood of a coma patient whom he had a personal relationship with, justifying it by telling himself the man would have wanted it that way. His attempts at non-violence are eventually undermined, though, by Tae-ju, a miserable and self-destructive woman whom Sang-hyun develops a particularly unhealthy relationship with. It’s at this point that the real horror kicks in, as Tae-ju becomes increasingly violent and domineering and Sang-hyun fails to stop her because he fears losing her.
If you replaced blood with heroin or crystal meth, this is a couple that would not be out of place on an episode of Intervention. Sang-hyun and Tae-ju seem to have little in common with each other besides shared misery and, eventually, shared addiction. I trust I’m not spoiling the movie for anyone when I say that things do not turn out particularly well for the couple in the end. This is still a Korean horror movie, after all. Still, after all the couple puts each other through there remains some real tenderness between the two of them, and it’s that human element that makes Thirst as engrossing a movie as it is.