Once is never enough for the murky thriller ‘Bluebeard’

images (1).jpgWatching “Bluebeard,” I got the strangest sense of deja vu. Scene after scene feels and looks the same. Hapless divorcee Seung-hoon (Jin-woong Jo) dreams of a severed head wrapped in a black trash bag, discovers it later in his freezer, convinces himself it’s not there, and rediscovers it just a few scenes later. Writer and director Soo-youn Lee doesn’t differentiate between these discoveries. Each one is a revelation given equal weight.

The same goes for Seung-hoon falling asleep and waking up. Sure, showing him sleep raises the classic, “is it dream or reality?” question, but after he falls on the bed and dreams of his landlord Sung-geun (Dae-Myung Kim) murdering one of his wives for the third time, a line should be drawn. Watching these repeats feels like a parent reminding you to do something you already did. Annoying, and pointless.

If you happen to forget any of these details, don’t worry. Two quick and sloppy late-movie montages will remind you. One’s got a black-and-white filter, some slipshod editing, and reeks of big studio intervention. The other drags out a plot point for so long that it becomes hilarious. The reveals, the twists, and the turns all feel unearned and repetitive. In defter hands, the movie’s winding narrative would feel less like a trial and more like a ride. Instead, I couldn’t wait for the ending.

The beginning doesn’t show much promise, though the story has its appeal. Seung-hoon is a recently divorced doctor who’s opened his own clinic in a rural Korean province. After hearing his landlord’s father confess to a grizzly murder while sedated, he decides to investigate the case himself. The deeper he gets into his landlord’s secret life, the harder it becomes to tell dream from reality. That line blurs to the point of unknowability and Seung-hoon soon finds himself the main suspect in the case.

The best crime thrillers withhold information without viewers knowing it. “Bluebeard” takes the opposite approach. It wants you to know that it’s keeping secrets because that’s suspenseful, right? Well, when those secrets could have deepened the movie’s complexity if they weren’t concealed, no, it isn’t suspenseful. More than anything, it’s a frustrating exercise in seeing how long it takes for Soo-youn Lee to botch his story.

The answer: not long. Once you get to the end, things get a bit more interesting, but it raises the question: why all the misdirection? Why keep so much of the story under wraps? “Bluebeard” fails to justify its methods and structure. It misdirects viewers because the whole thing hinges on just a few key moments. Everything in between is lackadaisical fluff. Like the great crime thrillers “Bluebeard” tries to be, it leaves you with more questions than answers. Unlike those same movies, however, it’s not smart enough to let viewers come up with the answers. Trying to would be a waste of time.