Short in scares, this kind-of-smart-but-not-really horror’s biggest sin is how forgettable it is
“You must be cold without leaves. I wish you had leaves.”
“Does the tree understand you?”
Acacia is a horror film from South Korea. That’s it, review over. There’s not a whole lot to talk about, mainly because it’s a very easy film to forget. The tagline for this movie is “the root of all evil”, and not only is that a wildly inaccurate summary of the film, it’s also the most inventive part of it. Acacia, while not awful in any way, is starved of decent characters and originality to the point where it begins to resemble the weak, pencil-thin orphan it centres around.
Choi Mi-Sook (Shim Hye-jin) and Kim Do-il (Kim Jin-geun) are married, although unable to have kids. They agree to adopt, and take in Jin-seong (Mun Oh-bin), a weird young boy who spends his day drawing and talking to the acacia tree in the back yard. He befriends a (presumably) sick girl (Na-yoon Jeong), who lives next door and refers to herself as a vampire.
When Mi-sook finds herself pregnant unexpectedly, and has a baby son, Jin-seong acts out violently, and eventually runs away. Then, creepy things begin to happen around the house (mostly in dream sequences though), and the once-dead tree begins to grow leaves again.
Positivity first, some of the cinematography is great, and I really liked the cast. Mun is excellent as the scary kid, and the parents, who begin to go crazy in the second half, do their jobs really well too. The cast is relatively small, essentially just five family members (grandma and grandpa make a few appearances), and the vampire girl, which helps keep focus on the right areas and gives everyone chance to shine. Well, maybe they would if it wasn’t so boring.
I’ve mentioned a tonne of other horror films as lacking any originality, so why have some of those gotten a pass while this one is getting more of a grilling? While Acacia offers a few more cerebral thrills than your average horror, it lacks any kind of scariness. It defies expectations, but in the most boring way possible; for example, tension building scenes which traditionally end in sting music and some sort of scare instead end here with the scene just … ending. Nothing scary happens in the entirety of the film, even when blood starts spilling. This is a major problem: even the dumbest of comedies can be rescued as long as it has laughs galore. Same with horror films – some good scares can salvage an otherwise boring film with uninteresting characters. Hell, just look at the Paranormal Activity franchise.
Writer Seong Gi-young and director Park Ki-hyung have started writing two really good films: a mellow family drama, and an intense psychological thriller, and with some work in developing them as separate entities, they could have made some excellent films. The style is reminiscent of Miike’s Audition, or The Sixth Sense, which both start out as melodramas, but while both of those movies built up the protagonists’ issues, and then integrated them into the horror, Acacia doesn’t seem to know where it’s going with anyone, and thus is unable to give us a story that is either satisfying or scary. We know the kid is creepy, because he’s a child in a horror film. But what’s the vampire girl’s story? She’s sick, we gather, but it’s not touched upon. What’s up with the grandpa? What’s the deal with the parents? Nothing is answered, in favour of shots of the tree growing leaves or whispering. It’s like if The Happening happened in South Korea.
While definitely not terrible, it’s hard to recommend this film simply because there are a tonne of other better films in similar vein that deliver better results. The climax is strong, and cast works hard but Acacia is a film that’s more potential than delivery, and will, unfortunately, leave little impact on you afterwards.
Verdict: Forgettable and tragically not scary, Acacia tries, but misses more than it hits
Also known as: 아카시아, Root of Evil
Director: Park Ki-hyung
Writer: Seong Gi-young, Park Ki-Hyung
Shim Hye-Jin Mi-sook
Kim Jin-geun Do-il
Mun Oh-bin Jin-seong
Jeong Na-yun Min-ji