The movie landscape is one built on seemingly fewer and fewer original properties these days — it’s not true, but it seems that way as there are more and more remakes (and reboots, re-imaginings, etc) hitting our screens than ever before. They get a bad rap, but as with any category of film there are good and bad examples. The best are typically those that take the original’s core idea and use it as an inspiration for their own tale, and that’s wisely what the filmmakers behind the new South Korean thriller Door Lock have done. The result is a sharp and suspenseful thriller that will have you afraid of what’s in your own apartment and under your own bed.
Kyung-min (Kong Hyo-jin) spends her days working as a harried bank teller and her nights living alone in a small studio apartment. Returning from another stressful day at work she’s mildly unnerved to see her door lock panel — the apartment doors have keypads rather than traditional key locks — has been left open. She changes the combination as a precaution and heads to bed only to be woken later by someone angrily trying to unlock and open the door. The police see her as a nervous complainer and offer no help, and as the incidents and intrusions magnify she’s forced to act before the unknown visitor does.
As described, Lee Kwon‘s Door Lock could be a remake of any number of films, but it’s actually a very specific riff on 2011’s Spanish gem Sleep Tight. Where that film is a brilliantly twisted look at a male antagonist, though, Lee’s redo focuses on a female victim-to-be. Of course, women are most frequently the targets in killer thrillers, but Lee takes the basic woman in jeopardy formula and shines a light on the everyday fears faced by women in modern society. If it sounds preachy, don’t worry, it’s not as the film is a slick and creepy tale that thrills and excites fans of suspense rides.
“You have too many men around you,” says someone to Kyung-min, and it serves as both observation and warning. After the initial incident with the stranger at her door, we’re made privy to an average day in her life built on interactions and altercations, and while she has professional clashes with a female co-worker it’s the men in and around her life who quickly mark themselves as suspect. A dashingly chummy co-worker, an angry customer, a soft-spoken maintenance man, a judgemental cop — all of them have an opinion and an interest, and at least one of them is dangerous. Her world is male-dominated through no fault of her own, and what might be a slight affront to a man takes on a potentially frightening demeanor for a woman.
It’s a real-world concern and terror that even those of us who don’t live with it can understand, and Lee and Kong craft tension and concern from even the slightest passing. Once she’s become aware of someone actively trying to reach her every man becomes a threat, and the script does a fantastic job offering up a menu of suspects for viewers to choose from. The ultimate reveal isn’t necessarily surprising, but the realization that any of them could be the culprit is a sad and dispiriting realization.
Viewers live with this suspense for 100 minutes — many women are forced to endure it every damn day.
Cinematographer Park Jung-hoon has an easier job this time around than he had on The Villainess (2017), but while there’s less movement and action the film goes deep into shadow and stillness. Park’s pockets of darkness compliment the film’s focus on secrets and hidden natures, and just as we don’t always know what’s behind a seemingly kind smile we’re also left unsure what — or who — is crouched just beyond the reach of the light.
Kyung-min’s fears become our own thanks equally to the filmmaking and Kong’s performance. Her suspicion that something isn’t right is met with disbelief, disdain, and dismissal, and while she struggles to face her fears and find the truth it’s Kong’s performance that holds viewers tight with tense concern. We’re challenged on occasion by choices Kyung-min makes along the way, and there’s a curious divide — some leave viewers reacting with the same unwarranted disbelief that plagues the film’s male characters, but others are more understandably deserving of such reactions. We can accept some of her actions, but the script makes other calls for her that don’t make sense given the character, situation, and narrative.
While technically a remake of Sleep Tight the film’s narrative choices and direction leaves Door Lock feeling like its own creation. The setup remains, and we’re even treated to some of the original film’s signature imagery — unsettling and unnerving imagery — but rather than leave viewers in the company of madness we’re instead tied to a woman who just might fall victim to it. It’s a wholly different kind of journey making these distinct films, and while that leaves the original with far more of a unique nature it leaves this film with a lack of redundancy that too often plagues remakes.