Fantastic Fest 2023: Killing Romance and Bark

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fest

When I’m pairing movies together I, as one tends to do, try to pair two films with some sort of connection, however tangential that may be. Sometimes, it’s fun to take two films that seem like complete opposites and watch them back-to-back. So I did that with Killing Romance and Bark, the next two films on my Fantastic Fest 2023 list. One film is a South Korean musical comedy-thriller, and the other is an isolating psychological thriller set deep in the woods. While these films couldn’t be more different from one another, it was a nice juxtaposition between the two. An upbeat musical thriller to lift up my mood, and a soul-crushing psychological piece to bring me back down. Maybe I should have watched them in the other order… anyway, it’s done now.

Killing Romance

Written by Park Jeong-ye // Directed by Lee Won-suk

Yeo-rae sits on a red couch as plates are being offered to her
Image courtesy of Fantastic Fest

Killing Romance follows superstar Hwa Yeo-rae (Lee Hanee), an actress who became the face of a soda brand. After a role in her latest film draws laughs and criticism from fans, Ywo-rae decides to get out of dodge. She ends up on the tropical island Qualla, where she meets the enigmatic mega-millionaire Johnathan Na (Lee Sun-kyun). The two soon marry and move back to Seoul, where Johnathan turns out to be an abusive and manipulative monster. With the help of her neighbor, and superfan, Kim Beom-woo (Gong Myoung), Yeo-rae tries to leave her husband with aspirations to become an actor once again.

So, this definitely isn’t a horror film. Nor is it horror-adjacent. And that’s why I think it’s important to talk about. To start, Killing Romance’s over-the-top cheery and colorful nature does a lot to bring the mood of this film to an eleven. When the introduction of the abuse and manipulation starts, we’re still inundated with these bright, cheery colors. The film doesn’t ever visually change which makes the abuse that much more heinous and uncomfortable to view. Seeing what Yeo-rae must endure in this cartoonishly lavish house is haunting. While the visuals do an excellent part of creating that horrific juxtaposition, it cannot be understated how Lee Hanee’s performance sells it the rest of the way. Even in the scenes in-between what she is put through, you can feel the pain in her eyes as well as the hope when she potentially sees a way out. However, her way out might not be the most legal.

There is quite a bit of half-baked CGI that either works for you or doesn’t. If you are able to embrace the world written by Jeong-ye and crafted by Won-suk, then it will work for you. But if you don’t buy into the cartoonish characters and obscure scenarios, then it won’t work. The musical numbers are definitely interesting, though I don’t know if there are really enough to call it a musical. Part of me wishes they would have buckled down more on the musical idea—it almost feels like they weren’t sure how far they could push the musical aspect.

Overall, Killing Romance was very enjoyable while maintaining a heavy level of fear and uncomfortableness. There is a level of horror to the actions that occur within the film and that’s why it’s an important film to discuss. It shows that just because someone might have everything they could ever imagine doesn’t mean they’re truly happy on the inside. Sometimes, those people are the most difficult to be around. That is definitely oversimplifying it, but you get the point. Killing Romance, “It’s Gooooooood!”


Written by Steve Fauquier // Directed by Marc Schölermann

The Outdoorsman kneels next to Nolan, who is tied to a tree
Image courtesy of Fantastic Fest

One day, Nolan Bently (Michael Weston) wakes up to find his arms tied behind a large tree. The next day he finds The Outdoorsman (A.J. Buckley) setting up camp to keep an eye on him. Who knows what will happen on the third day?

Bark is an interesting film in how it works to manipulate your emotions in a way that might make a certain reviewer feel bad about their thoughts on it. This film is some bark with some bite. The idea behind this film is solid and simple: a man is tied to a tree and someone watches him. It’s an idea that can be handled literally hundreds of ways. For me, the way Schölermann handled it didn’t really work for me. Certain ideas are entertained that do work in the long run but do the means justify the end? Yes. Sort of.

There’s no way to say what I want to say without completely spoiling the film, but I agree with the actions taken and the emotions behind it. Fauquier’s script is excellent. The tension is built beautifully through Nolan and The Outdoorsman’s interactions, and lack thereof. And Weston and Buckley really embody their perspective roles, creating brilliantly uncomfortable chemistry. Where the film falls apart is how there isn’t really any tension built from Schölermann’s direction and Peter Meyer’s cinematography.

We never leave Nolan throughout the film, we’re with him for the long run. When it comes to filming someone confined to one location, it’s difficult. What’s even more difficult is when that person is confined to one location and they stay in one spot. You have an excellent setting with the woods, capturing the vast emptiness and silence that comes with it can do wonders for a film’s atmosphere. They just didn’t really find an interesting way to capture the woods, or Nolan for that matter. At around the halfway mark, it seemed like the creative shots had all been used up. An overreliance on close-up handy-cam Dutch angles soon became too much and stopped all of the anxiety that had been built up to that point.

The heavily exposited finale did bring me back in, though I had already fallen into a state of ambivalence towards the film. I appreciate the idea, setting, and characters in Bark, it just feels as if the setting wasn’t utilized in an overly effective way to make the film visually engaging. The exposition retroactively makes the entire film worthwhile, but it’s understandable if it doesn’t save the film for some viewers.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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