REVIEW: The Cursed Lesson puzzles, not scares, with incoherent plot

Marcus Goh
·4-min read
Hyo-jung (Lee Chae-young) in The Cursed Lesson (PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures)
Hyo-jung (Lee Chae-young) in The Cursed Lesson (PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures)

Rating: R21
Length: 93 minutes
Director: Kim Ji-han and Juhn Jai-hong
Cast: Lee Chae-young, Kan Mi-young, Jo Jung-min, Choi Cheol-ho

Score: 1 star out of 5 stars

There's a theme somewhere inside The Cursed Lesson about society's obsession with materialism and appearance and the lengths that people will go to for that... but you really need to squint, make some leaps of logic, and perform mental gymnastics to get there. The Cursed Lesson tries to accomplish many things, without ever fully committing to one single idea. It feels very much like a film that's designed by a committee, rather than being the true and singular vision of a director (there are two directors credited for the film).

“Cursed” is a Korean horror film that revolves around an expensive yoga camp (the titular lesson) that promises fabulous results for all its students. The four women who enrol soon find that there's something wrong about the entire structure of the class, and all may not be as it seems. As bizarre incidents occur, the four women start to have their doubts about the camp.

A seemingly innocent yoga lesson in The Cursed Lesson (PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures)
A seemingly innocent yoga lesson. (PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures)

The film begins in a fairly intriguing way that helps us to empathise with Hyo-jung (Lee Chae-young), the protagonist of the film. In fact, the first fifteen minutes are where you feel a genuine connection with Hyo-jung, as you see her fears and foibles underneath an ostensibly perfect exterior. Her insecurities drive her to trying out a pricey but effective yoga class, which turns out to be a yoga camp where all attendees have to give up their mobile devices (hence preventing any of them from contacting the outside world or even Googling about the weird things that happen to them).

But it's only when we get to the actual premise of the film, the cursed lesson(s), that the film starts its descent into becoming a tangled mess of incoherent pieces. There's a heavy dose of the supernatural that is undercut by psychological horror, lots of eye candy that feels rather pornographic at times (it is rated R21 though), and plenty of imagery that doesn't really go anywhere because you're not sure what the film wants to achieve.

The horror element exists, charitably speaking. The characters see supernatural creatures, there's a heavy amount of gore and miscellaneous bodily fluids, eyes get discoloured and frightening faces loom large... but there's no unifying theme to all the horror. It gets worse at the end with a sudden reveal which seemingly invalidates everything you've seen, only that it doesn't — or does it?

Hyo-jung (Lee Chae-young) gets spooked in The Cursed Lesson (PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures)
Hyo-jung (Lee Chae-young ,left) gets spooked. (PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures)

It's an infuriating conclusion that makes you want to throw whatever you're eating at the screen. This feeble attempt at being thought-provoking feels more like a commercially driven decision (let's get as many people talking about the film's ending as possible!) rather than being anything worthy of cinematic merit. The ending attempts to skirt its artificiality by showing you flashbacks that "prove" that the resolution is legitimate, but you can't help groaning at this juvenile attempt to patch what is a rather glaring plot hole.

The only time the film has a clear vision is when it comes to the visuals — mainly, the art direction and cast. The serpentine motifs are evident throughout the film, although it can get a bit blatant at times; and the cast were clearly picked for their looks rather than acting ability (although there are some questionable choices) so that they're easy on the eyes. It's fairly fitting, given the movie's focus on appearances and beauty. Nevertheless, images without a story does not a movie make, and that's where this horror film falls short.

The Cursed Lesson is nice to look at, but there's no apparent rhyme or reason for anything that happens. If you're here for the scares, you can go home; if you're here for the story, you can also go home; and if you're here for an art film, you should also go home. It's ironic how the movie is a lesson in how not to make a movie — with almost every aspect of the film running away in all directions, it could really have benefitted from a single director's vision.

The Cursed Lesson is out in cinemas:
- 26 November, 2020 (Singapore)