The Movie Waffler BFI London Film Festival 2022 Review - THE WOMAN IN THE WHITE CAR | The Movie Waffler

BFI London Film Festival 2022 Review - THE WOMAN IN THE WHITE CAR

The Woman in the White Car review
A jaded smalltown cop is drawn into a mystery she's unprepared for.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Christine Ko

Starring: Jung Ryeo-won, Lee Jung-eon, Jang Jin-hee, Kang Jung-woo, Kim Jung-min

The Woman in the White Car poster

With its middle-aged smalltown female cop tackling a crime she's unprepared for and its snowy backdrop, Christine Ko's The Woman in the White Car has drawn Fargo comparisons from film festival programmers. A more apt comparison might be Scandinavia's Nordic Noir movement, as it plays its drama straight (for the most part - there's one decidedly odd comic moment in an otherwise stoic film) and often resembles a pilot episode for the sort of Scandinavian TV shows that have become global cult hits over the past decade.

The Woman in the White Car review

The Marge Gunderson comparisons come via the figure of middle-aged smalltown cop Hyun-ju (Parasite's Lee Jeong-eun). Years of protecting and serving her sleepy community have led to Hyun-ju losing her passion for her job. When she receives a call about two injured sisters arriving at the local hospital, she's completely unprepared for what follows.

At the hospital, Hyun-ju finds Do-kyeong (Jung Ryeo-won), who has some minor scars, and another comatose stabbing victim (Kim Jung-min) who Do-kyeong claims is her older sister. Interrogated by Hyun-ju, Do-kyeong tells the story of how her sister arrived at her home with her sinister new fiancé (Kang Jung-woo) in tow. Her brother-in-law-to-be turned out to be a violent domestic abuser, with the night ending in his death as the two sisters defended themselves. Sure enough, Hyun-ju finds the body, but certain aspects of Do-kyeong's story don't quite add up.

The Woman in the White Car review

As Hyun-ju investigates further, the movie takes a Rashomon approach to teasing out the true details of what really happened on that fateful night. Some of the reconstructions are from the people involved, who may be lying to cover up the truth and save themselves, while at times the film presents its own objective truth. Or does it? Director Christine Ko and screenwriter Ja-Yeon Seo take aspects from various Hitchcock thrillers (it ultimately hinges on an idea lifted from one particular movie that I can't name without giving the game away), including the unreliable narrator technique of Stage Fright. We're never sure if we can trust any of the characters, or even the film itself. Watching the movie at home on a screener, I had the luxury of being able to rewind and replay certain scenes, but cinema audiences will want to ingest plenty of coffee before their screening so they can mentally keep up with the film's multiple twists and turns.

Of course, Hitchcock always favoured suspense over mystery and surprises, giving the audience more information than the protagonist to create those crucial "he's behind you, don’t go up the stairs etc" moments. Ko and Seo take the opposite approach, with the characters always in possession of more information than the viewer. This means we're never really engaged with the characters, rather we're watching them from a distance as they dispense information. I found myself wondering if the movie might be more effective had the final twist been revealed to the audience a lot earlier. As it is, we never feel like our nominal hero Hyun-ju is in any real danger, whereas if we knew the true nature of what she's up against it might have added some much needed suspense to the narrative.

The Woman in the White Car review

It's a mentality I've never personally understood, but there are many viewers who are quite happy to watch a movie for its surprises (hence the internet's obsession with avoiding "spoilers"), and they'll be well served by Ko's film as its narrative is as tangled as the cables behind your stereo. Whether you favour suspense or surprises, you'll be kept engaged by the film's two central performances from Jeong-eun and Ryeo-wun, and if this were a pilot for a TV series, the former certainly does enough good work to impress the most demanding of network execs.

The Woman in the White Car
 plays at the BFI London Film Festival 2022 from October 7th.

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