[Review] “Hana” (BIFAN 2018): Supernatural Short Examines the Troubled Relationship Between a Mother and Daughter

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 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.