South Korean actress Doona Bae has had a fair amount of success in the West, thanks to home-grown movies such as The Host and Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and becoming one of the Wachowskis’s favoured actors in the likes of Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending and Sense8. With A Girl At My Door she returns to the Korean peninsula to play Young-Nam, who after a minor scandal is sent to a small, rural town to be their police chief.
Told to keep her head down, she immediately begins to ruffle feathers when she discovers a man called Yong-ha beating his daughter Do-hee. He is not impressed about being told what to do, as he feels he runs the town – and most agree, as most people’s livelihoods rely on the crooked and corrupt economy he has set up.
Young-ha starts to take an increasing interest in Do-hee, and eventually the girl ends up living with the policewoman, who is hoping to protect her from her violent, drunken father. However Young-nam hasn’t reckoned with how disturbed Do-hee might be after years of abuse. The psychosexual dimension that comes into their relationship becomes dangerous when Yong-ha realises the Young-nam is a lesbian, and that he may be able to use small-minded attitudes about gay people and children against her.
Initially I thought A Girl At My Door might be a bit too quiet and low-key for its own good, but then it takes its slow-build attitude in increasingly interesting directions, turning from what initially looks like it’s going to be a small-town drama into an increasingly dark thriller. Doona Bae is great in the central role, never taking things too far and instead using her character’s quietness to explore some deep emotions and turbulence running under the surface. A lot of credit should also go to Sae-ron Kim as Do-hee, who manages to switch between absolute innocence and an almost terrifying manipulativeness with disturbing ease.
It’s a movie that slowly brings in more and more elements, including sexuality, how the allure of the status quo has the ability to get authority to collude with corruption in search of an easy life, child abuse and how you might deal with an increasingly confused relationship with a child. It’s fascinating and extremely well put together, even if it does take a while to get going.
It’s also interesting to see that the inability to distinguish between homosexuality and paedophilia is global, and the film does some really interesting things with it, suggesting what while it’s definitely wrong, things can get extremely complex when you’re put in a tough situation.
Overall Verdict: After a slow start, A Girl At My Door builds into an increasingly fascinating and disturbing thriller, looking at what rules and morals should be bent to try to get to the right end.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac