More so than most horror films, A Tale of Two Sisters relies on the impact of its climactic big reveal (think Sixth Sense big). How much you appreciate the film will largely depend on how effective you feel that revelation is.
I’ll admit I didn’t see it coming, even if I knew something was on its way. A Tale of Two Sisters is, after all, a story full of unreliable narrators: Su-mi (Im Su-jeong), a teen girl returning from a stay at a psychiatric hospital after the death of her mother; Su-yeon (Mun Geun-yeong), her younger sister, who had accompanied her to the hospital; Moo-hyeon (Kim Kap-soo), their maddeningly indifferent father; and their stepmother (Yeom Jeong-ah), who is clearly up to no good.
When strange things start happening, any one of these characters could plausibly be responsible.
One of the intriguingly creepy things about the film is that when strange things start happening – the murder of pet birds, abusive scratches on arms, odd noises at night – any one of these characters could plausibly be responsible. And don’t entirely discount the possibility that the culprit could be a ghost.
Director Kim Ji-woon has the sort of stately, patient technique I appreciate in the horror genre, though here it occasionally borders on the inert. Things pick up stylistically after the revelation, when the movie more clearly settles on a specific character’s point of view and the camera adopts a harried and frantic demeanor.
The final 20 minutes or so are less effective, as we sit through a series of red herrings that have little dramatic impact because we now know they don’t represent the truth. By its end, A Tale of Two Sisters has more tricks up its sleeve than it needs.