[Fantasia Festival 2019 Review] Door Lock is a Fantastic Remake with a Twist

Remakes come in a variety of forms and flavors, from the almost shot-for-shot concept of Psycho to the re-imagining of Carpenter’s The Thing or Cronenberg’s The Fly. But Door Lock is a remake that is unlike any I have personally seen before. It’s based on Jaume Balagueró’s Spanish film Sleep Tight, which told the story of a concierge at an apartment complex who is so miserable in his own life that he tries to find pleasure in destroying the lives of the tenants he’s supposed to help.

He focuses his attention on one particular woman, who seems cheerily invincible to everything life has to throw at her, and wants to destroy her and make her as unhappy as he feels. It’s pretty heady stuff, particularly as it puts the viewer in the uncomfortable position of being an unwitting bystander of his actions. It’s an interesting ploy as it tells the story from the sadistic concierge’s perspective.

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Lee Kwon’s South Korean adaptation Door Lock inverts the storyline and puts us back in the shoes of a woman who increasingly thinks she’s being stalked. It opens with Kyung-min (Kong Hyo-jin) sleeping in bed next to a man. The man gets up, eats cereal while watching her sleep and then leaves. It’s presented, much like in Sleep Tight, as a couple, getting up at different times in the morning. Except we quickly realize that Kyung-min is not aware that she had company. Things quickly start worrying her, though. She feels dizzy every morning. Her door lock, a number pad locking mechanism like we use for garage doors in the States, is always open. Things seem randomly different. Someone leaves a smoking cigarette butt in the hall outside her door.

She works as a contract teller at a bank, hoping her temporary position will become permanent. Her best friend Hyo-joo (Kim Ye-won) also works there and looks out for her as another teller tries to steal her customers. But when she gets home, she notices her door lock keypad is open again. Things quickly escalate that night when someone knocks on her door and then continually enters the wrong code. That same day, she was forced to deny someone a saving’s account and he seems obsessed with getting even with her.

When murder strikes her apartment complex, she realizes that she has no one to turn to and so she takes matters into her own hands to save herself.

Door Lock recontextualizes the psychological thriller aspects of Sleep Tight into a more traditional thriller with slasher genre stylings. Lee Kwon does an exceptional job of framing the action in a way that heightens the claustrophobia and paranoia that Kyung-min feels, through use of mirrors and cameras. We see brief snippets of CC cameras picking up her movements throughout the city and the camera likes to frame her through mirrors. It creates the idea that she is continually being watched and is never truly alone.

Hitchcockian gets thrown around a lot, but in some ways it’s an appropriate descriptor here for the way cinematographer Park Jung-hoon shoots the action. The way the action is framed feels very inspired by Hitchcock. One particular set piece has Kyung-min and Hyo-joo moving through a maze of back alleys, trying to track down a potential suspect and the camera mixes tight, close-up shots with the occasional overhead framing to give the action a dizzying quality.

While the movie tells a familiar story from a different perspective, it does create its own identity as Kyung-min takes a much more active role in the narrative. Because she’s now the protagonist vice the focal point, she has more agency and as such the entire feel of the movie changes. It becomes mostly a “who dunnit” type story that at times feels a bit paint by numbers. Of course the police don’t believe her. Of course she gets a clue that leads her on a chase for the stalker’s identity. Of course the antagonist wears a kind of slasher-esqe outfit when he’s not hiding in her apartment.

But it works really well. I loved the way Lee Kwon was able to present similar situations but from a vastly different perspective. As an example, in Sleep Tight, there’s a scene where the villainous César is stuck in his victim’s apartment and trying desperately to get out without getting caught. Here, with the perspective change, we get an incredibly intense scene with Hyung-min trapped in a house with an unsuspecting killer, but the switch heightens the tension. Door Lock offers a number of these surprising twists that help subvert expectations.

Unfortunately, the villain feels more one note as it strips away the complexities of the character and instead of being a psychological study of the terrifying person, it feels more slasher-inspired. The motive is even cheapened from the disturbing implications of Sleep Tight. But I could appreciate what both stories were doing. In this way, Door Lock feels like a great companion piece to Sleep Tight.