'Midnight' (2022) Review: An Unpredictable K-Horror with Deafness at the Center

Nuha Hassan reviews Kwon Oh-Seung's Midnight, a Korean horror-thriller starring Wi Ha-joon of Squid Game fame.

'Midnight' (2022) Review: An Unpredictable K-Horror with Deafness at the Center
Wi Ha-joon as Do-shik

Kwon Oh-Seung’s Midnight is a Korean thriller that pits a serial killer against Kyung Mi (Jin Ki-joo), a deaf woman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. South Korean films are known for the grotesque violence ever displayed on screens, with Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook to name a few directors that put K-horror on the world stage. Midnight is a fast-paced and compelling movie that brings suspense, thrill, and energy through Kwon’s unpredictable and perplexing plot. It is about the manipulation of the two deaf women characters. The circumstances under which the characters fall under puts them in a dangerous position.

The film begins with Do-shik (Wi Ha-joon) as he targets a woman hailing a cab on the road. He offers to give her a ride but when she refuses, he attacks her, calls the police and pretends to have seen the attackers before fleeing the scene. In Seoul, Kyung Mi (Jin) and her mother (Gil Hae-yeon), who are both Deaf, finish a long day of work and plan to eat dinner. They are unaware that Do-Shik is stalking their neighbourhood. Meanwhile, So-Jung (Kim Hye-yoon) is meeting up with friends and plans to come back home, despite her brother Jong-tak’s (Park Hoon) objections. Do-Shik sets his target on Kyung Mi’s mother, but when he sees So-jung walk past him alone on the street, she becomes Do-Shik’s victim and he sets his target on the daughter and mother believing that he can take advantage of their disability. The night turns into a nightmare when Kyung Mi witnesses Do-shik’s attempted murder of So-jung and simultaneously becomes his next target. Now, she must do everything to outwit Do-shik and save her mother from a serial killer on the loose in the streets of South Korea.

Kyung Mi holds her mother, as they both look in front of them with frightened faces.
Gil Hae-yeon and Jin Ki-joo as the mother and Kyung Mi, respectively

Midnight uses the streets of Seoul to create a game of cat and mouse. Its purpose is to make Kyung Mi and her mother feel claustrophobic and vulnerable. Do-Shik uses the space around him, as it’s a safe space for Kyung Mi and her mom, to trap them. In a scene where Kyung Mi runs back to the car park basement to get back to her car, Do-Shik follows her. As she tries to quietly open the door and contact her mother, Do-Shik is already in the back seat, a safe space for her and the mother. The means of escape and confrontation are the killer's way of entrapping his victims, and every exit is closed for them. The cinematography by Cha Taek-gyun is splendidly shot almost entirely at night, so the sinister, dark atmosphere makes the movie even more thrilling.

Midnight regularly shows how Kyung Mi and her mother are treated by able-bodied people. Kyung Mi works as a customer service representative in a call centre and takes abuse in sign language daily. After work, she is expected to entertain the clients who mock and sexualise her, but unbeknownst to them, she smiles and mocks them right back in sign language. Their harassment is a reflection of how society treats women or anyone with a disability. Even Do-shik targets Khyung Mi and her mother believing that he can manipulate them and goes beyond pretending to be someone else and changing his clothes. Under the guise of helping them, he follows them around claiming that he is looking for his sister. He observes Kyung Mi and her mother, figuring out their abilities and their sensory gaps.

Do-shik sits behind Kyung Mi and watches her while she looks at her phone

It’s not only just the serial killer that treats Kyung Mi and her mother this way. The pair visits the police station to report the attempted murder, however, the police officers only see them as vulnerable people. Kyung Mi manages to inform the police officer about the incident, but it’s such a frustrating scene to watch because it seems as though a Deaf person has to fight other people's perception of being weak or vulnerable. The authorities don’t take them seriously, or maybe they do, but they don’t seem to care too much about what Kyung Mi has to say and keep misunderstanding her. When Kyung Mi and her mother attempt to reveal Do-Shik as the serial killer, the police officers dismiss their concerns and ignore them. Midnight makes a commentary on how police officers, who are meant to help people, regardless of their disability, treat two deaf women as weak and vulnerable people. It’s not just people that take advantage of disabled people, it’s institutions, too.

This manipulation of Kyung Mi and her mother by other characters continues throughout the movie. At one point, Do-Shik arrives at their home and sabotages the light sensors set up in their homes to attack Kyung Mi. It’s a sequence that is frightening and even disturbing to watch. When Kyung Mi and her mother’s home alerting devices are taken away from them, it puts them in danger. But Kyung Mi surprises Do-shik, as well as the audience by outsmarting him. Midnight doesn’t show that Kyung Mi and her mother are weak. They are resourceful and immune to the dangers around them, for instance, Kyung Mi uses an aid device to make sure she is driving safely in her car.

Midnight is presented as a social commentary on how society treats disabled people, but the downside is that neither of the two women leads in the movie are actually Deaf. While Hollywood movies like Sian Heder’s CODA have been applauded for having deaf actors for the roles, perhaps it would have been better for Kwon’s movie to include deaf actors, too. In terms of representation, there is a long way to go. Midnight is a masterwork of suspense and thriller, and the use of exterior space to intimidate and isolate the characters gives it an additional breathlessness. Wi, who is known for his role as Detective Hwang Jun-ho in Netflix’s Squid Game, gives a versatile and outrageously unhinged performance of a killer maniac. Midnight is exciting and breathless and never gets bleak, except for a few mishaps.

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