With her debut as a writer/director, Mai Nakanishi tackles contemporary social issues in Japan and South Korea by way of a tragic supernatural tale in the short film Hana. A coproduction of those two aforementioned countries — set and shot in Busan, South Korea — Hana offers a take on how a single working mother can be distanced from her young child, and vice versa.
University student SuJin (HeeJin Jeon) arrives at an apartment building to interview for a babysitting job. Icy mother (JeongBi Lee) seems suspicious of SuJin’s abilities, but hires the girl and asks that she start work on the spot. Surprised by the sudden request, SuJin reluctantly agrees, as the mother repeatedly insists that she “protect my daughter.”
SuJin attempts to meet young Hana (DoEun Kim), who had been sleeping when she arrived. As if the mother’s parting uncomfortable glare wasn’t enough, strange occurrences happen as SuJin plays a game of hide and seek with Hana. Nakanishi ups the stakes and builds the suspense masterfully, leading to a climax that offers both a chilling reveal and a heartbreaking backstory. This reviewer truly got a lump in my throat during one particular scene involving Hana.
Hana is set in daytime, which can lead to stronger disorientation with supernatural films because viewers are used to things going bump in the night, not in the allegedly safe light of day. Nakanishi heightens this mood of daytime dread by shooting in washed-out whites, blacks, and greys, and using long, static shots that are often wide, giving a distanced notion that reflects the feelings, and sometimes lack thereof, of the film’s mother and daughter duo. She also employs minimalist touches to great effect, such as the unsettling song that Hana repeatedly hums, and the simple but startling sheet that the little girl wears.
The cast is terrific, with Jeon investing her babysitter character with an initial optimism that eventually turns to terror. Lee gives a solid turn as the glacial mother, and Kim conveys the mysteriousness of Hana convincingly. Junsang Lee’s cinematography adds marvelously to the claustrophobic, unnerving atmosphere that Nakanishi builds.
The best horror films are often built around well-founded drama, and Hana offers just that. It addresses the emotional void that can occur when single parents choose to, or must, make work the priority over their children’s care and safety, and it does so in a subtle manner that does not overpower the haunting supernatural elements of the tale.
Hana had its world premiere at South Korea’s 22nd Bucheon International Film Festival (July 12–22, 2018), including a sold-out screening. It has also been announced for several other film festivals, including Spain’s Sitges Film Festival (October 5–14, 2018). For more information, including festival screenings, visit https://www.filmhana.com/
(4.5 / 5)