The Self-Seers [Matthew David Ridley, South Korea, 2020]

A giant cross glows eerily atop a darkened metropolis, while a lone girl journeys home, floating in a daze – or is it a nightmare? The Self-Seers abounds in symbolism – from the Lord’s Prayer and the oft-repeated symbol of the cross, to the hair tie snapping against skin as the protagonist Ye Ri sleepwalks through the tedium of her world, confined to endless journeying between home, school, and the ghosts that lurk at night, hidden in the shadows. Shot in crisp monochrome, this short film firmly toes the line between horror and thriller, sharing tropes with classic horror landmarks such as The Exorcist [William Friedkin, USA, 1973] and Ring [Hideo Nakata, Japan, 1998], but also finding ethereal beauty in stillness, in the play between light and shadows, reminiscent of Chris Marker’s La Jetée [France, 1962].

A classical horror story of the haunting of a lonely girl by a malevolent spirit (that may or may not be responsible for the death of a classmate) is commendably depicted by director Matthew David Ridley in under ten short minutes. The shots are beautifully composed and masterfully executed, demonstrating a real talent for capturing hauntingly beautiful urban landscapes. A few standout gems of exquisitely shot lights and reflections on the canvas provided by leading actress Song Na Rin’s face are truly delightful. The eerie soundscape is a perfect complement to the haunting images, imbuing the film with an undercurrent of tension and lending the biblical quotations an air of weight and judgement that feels forthcoming and inevitable.

The film’s eerie impact is helped by a strong performance from actress Song Na Rin, whose heart-shaped, dreamily contemplative face seems perpetually frozen in quiet terror. It provides the perfect playground for each tremor to add a sense of palpable danger in a crescendo of foreboding, culminating in a masterfully choreographed doppelgänger scene, with TV static used to great effect.

While supporting actresses Kang Seong Kyeong and Kim Chae Jeong also deliver impressive and well-scripted performances, the film works best when it says less, letting the images speak for themselves and allowing Ye Ri’s terror to bleed through, without the crutch of bible verse or dialogue. After all, there is nothing more terrifying than our own minds and the fears they project, alone in the dark, on a blank canvas.

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