Min Soo-ah (Kim Ha-neul) is a police cadet in training who takes it upon herself to look after her younger brother. Her latest attempt to bring him home from the b-boy club scene sees him handcuffed inside the car, but when she loses control of he wheel the resulting accident claims his life and leaves her blind. The decisions she made that night get her removed from the police force, but it’s the guilt that weighs the heaviest.
Three years later she’s living with her Labrador guide dog named Wisey and still struggling with her impairment. Frustrated with her life, she takes a late night taxi ride that quickly becomes a hit and run. She reports it, but the police are unclear as to how a blind person can be a witness so they assign the case to a throwaway detective (Jo Hie-bong).
Unfortunately for Soo-ah, while the police aren’t taking what she witnessed very seriously the killer is. And he’s looking to silence her for good.
The ‘blind woman in jeopardy’ subgenre is a well worn one with films as diverse as Wait Until Dark, Jennifer Eight, and The Eye wringing the concept for everything it’s worth. The Eye has a supernatural bent obviously, but the thrills are the same when it comes to terror generated by what the audience can see that the heroine cannot.
Blind faces the same challenge of how to make the expected into something new and exciting, and it succeeds damn well thanks to a smart script, some fully invested performances, and slick and stylish direction from Ahn Sang-hoon.
Soo-ah is no superhero, but she does enter into this fight with some police training behind her and an incredible desire to prove herself capable. If she can atone for her brother’s death along the way then that’s even better. Her other senses aren’t heightened as much as she knows she has to focus on her hearing and memory in order to make it through a normal day let alone one with a killer breathing his fetid breath on the back of her neck.
One of the touches that Ahn brings to the film is a visual representation of Soo-ah’s “sight.” The world around her blacks out leaving only a very specific item or path on screen. This is her focus, and it’s triggered by familiar sounds that then lead to memories of objects, floorplans and more. The film wisely restrains from over using the effect making it feel interesting and cool each time.
Ahn has also crafted a handful of tense scenarios including one brilliantly executed scene in a subway station and train car. He uses modern day technological conveniences to heighten the suspense of an otherwise traditional setup, and while it ends with triumph there’s a heartbreaking price to be paid.
Kim brings a well crafted balance to the role of Soo-ah and makes her believable and compelling in both her up and down moments. The frustration and guilt she feels are evident as are the moments of real frailty, but she refuses to give up and simply become a victim to either her handicap or the madman. Other performances are equally strong, although Jo’s portrayal of the detective assigned to the case occasionally veers incredibly close to comedic shtick.
Blind is a serial killer thriller from a nation that makes them more often and far better than any other country on Earth. Unlike many of them though this film is more a story of the intended prey over the hungry predator. The killer is fierce, frightening, and wonderfully twisted, but Soo-ah’s tale is the one being told here. Luckily for viewers that tale is as exciting, suspenseful, and unexpectedly emotionally fulfilling a thriller as you’re likely to see this year.
The Upside: Brings fresh suspense and emotion to a familiar concept; strong performances; cool visual style to simulate what she sees
The Downside: Second act comedy risks tonal imbalance; teases melodrama at times