Fantasia Fest: NEW NORMAL Is a Brutal, All-Too Relatable Look at Modern Horrors

One of the best things about film festivals is you can step into a theater with absolutely no knowledge of what you’re about to see and at the very least leave entertained. Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal is maybe the best I’ve ever been to in this regard. I had a gap in my schedule and decided to step into a new South Korean horror/dark comedy called New Normal and got a cynical, truly brutal experience that feels perfectly torn out of the hell of modern city living. The loneliness, the awkwardness, and the chance that at any moment someone could murder you. It’s fun!

Writer-director Jung Bum-Shik clearly has a point of view with this movie. That is: “the world sucks, and you can’t do anything about it.” Indeed, it’s rare to see a movie with such a sense of downbeat inevitability. The movie depicts snapshots in a four-day stretch of time in Seoul as six different vignettes playout, intersecting and leading to shocking conclusions. I confess that after the first couple stories, the movie’s cynicism put me off. As it went along, it started sinking its teeth into me. The sheer style, exuberance, and seething rage on display—well, I won’t say it “won” me over, but I definitely started to vibe with it.

An unseen threat holds a knife up to Lee Yoo-mi's face in New Normal, a brutal new South Korean horror at Fantasia Film Fest.
Fantasia Fest

The stories all run the gamut of the hell of modern society. A single woman contends with a pushy smoke alarm inspector amidst reports of a serial killer. Elsewhere, a middle-school boy decides to help an old lady in a wheelchair for a lot longer than he planned. App-dating proves especially nightmarish on one terrible evening. A hopeless romantic follows a series of clues to hopefully find his perfect match. Then, a creepy loser is obsessed with his hot neighbor and does very dumb things. Finally, a fed-up convenience store clerk kills time posting about murder on a message board. Each has a wicked bite to it, each increasingly more brutal than the last.

New Normal takes familiar public spaces—city streets, gas stations, crowded restaurants—and turns them sinister or accentuates their already sinister aspects. The movie revels in making the situations cringingly funny before hitting us with growing tension and finally the swerve to horror. It never feels rote or perfunctory, and each vignette has its own ambience befitting its lead character. A real standout is the second story, which finds the middle-schooler’s journey into an increasingly foreboding part of the city. This all happens with the orchestral strains of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf underlaid. The final story, too, is exceptionally tragic, even for this movie. The young would-be musician leads her mundane, frustrating life only to decide to turn off the road at the last minute.

It seems a bit like the ethos of the movie isn’t just “F*** the World” (which the movie literally puts on screen several times) but “never take risks,” in any sense of the word. Don’t do things that put you in danger. This can include going down a dark alley or meeting a person for a blind date. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart, and you have to be in the mood for something very dark that plays the darkness for laughs more often than not. But it’s an undeniably effective movie in this regard. I think it showcases the skill and energy of Jung Bum-Shik (whose previous film was the found-footage creeper Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum) exceptionally well. Just, I guess, be careful literally everywhere you go.

New Normal

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.

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