Fear Eats the Seoul debuted in the United States last night to a quaint group of twenty-to-thirty-somethings, who could not have known what to expect from the cherubic NJ Calder on his maiden feature film effort. With a budget of $4500, Calder skillfully pieced together a horror flick, ripe with depth and subtle original twists to the genre. Set in Seoul, South Korea, it is about four English teacher transplants trying to survive a sudden zombie apocalypse, while facing their own unsavory character flaws. Mirrors are a prevalent symbolic presence, representing a forced reflection that the protagonists must have of themselves if they are going to deal with the “demons” and get along with each other. After locking themselves into a safe haven, the foursome find that, aside from hunting for food and debating what their next move will be, there’s not a whole lot to do. The stress and tension build as the realtime vignettes pull viewers into a setting saturated with conflict.
In the spirit of 28 Days Later, Fear Eats the Seoul is better characterized as a drama with zombies as opposed to a traditional gore fest, like Dead/Alive and Dawn of the Dead. With expected budgetary constraints, Calder knew he had to piece together images that suggest devastating violence instead of putting it on gratuitous display. The result proves Calder a prodigy in that often overlooked editing portion of the filmmaking skill set. Couple the quick cuts with near seizure-inducing focus shifts, throw in a sickly tense score, and voila: a highly entertaining, gripping movie emerges.
Another applaudable aspect of the film is Calder’s awareness of the need for the zombies to be stylized. He challenged himself to be original. Though inspired by Freddy Krueger, the “demons” as they are called (a play on the “inner demons” that the characters must face), are different from the monster predecessors that fans of the genre have seen countless times before. Once transformed, the demons develop a predatory tool with their fingers having turned into elongated root-like claws. The faces of the demons resemble a somehow even more horrifying version of Heath Ledger’s Joker of The Dark Knight fame and these zombies are fast and smart too.
Calder appeals to the horror die hards though by lifting the premise that once a human’s skin has been broken by a demon, they too turn into one. This sets up the inevitable moment where a character must choose to become malevolent towards someone who, moments earlier, were quite dear to them. Perhaps the best example of Calder’s ability to be true to the genre, yet unique is the kill method that must be employed, which involves pinpoint blows to an undead head, originating from the unquestioned foundational film Night of the Living Dead, but with a symbolic variation that astute viewers will find themselves pondering in between late night shuddered looks around their apartment.
Opportunities to view NJ Calder’s Fear Eats the Seoul may be limited, but should you over the course of the next year or so find it listed on the queue of a local indie film festival, a download of a couple of etickets to your smart phone should happen as quickly as you can say “Soju Hangover.”