A world-class water torturer takes revenge on a religious zealot who kills his own grandma in tyro helmer Park Soo-min’s intermittently intriguing critique of belief, “A Confession.” Some may bristle at what appears to be Park’s pointed denial of God, while others will go with the director’s claim that it’s blind devotion he’s slapping down. Either way, he delivers a bold, very Korean take, replete with torture scenes, that positions absolute faith as either delusion or a shield for psychosis. Though unlikely to generate genuflections, “Confession” may see mild fest action.
Expressionless former detective Park Duk-joon (Gwon Hyuk-poong) longs to receive an answer to his prayers, hoping the Holy Spirit might make sense of his son’s death and wash away the stain of years spent sadistically interrogating suspects. Despite a certain discomfort with his past (guilt is overstating it), he’s now working as a freelance torturer for a local gangster. After frequent attempts to get him to church, Mrs. Lee (Lee Haw-si) finally succeeds, but only because he notices his former boss Lim Gwang-han (Lee Dae-yun), the infamous “torture cop,” is Sunday’s inspirational speaker.
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Lim claims to have found religion in prison and now is “clean in God’s eyes,” though in an unwelcome conversation with Park, he says he feels no guilt for the things they did. Park comes away even more perplexed, and hopes Mrs. Lee may make things clearer. But when he finds her strangled body in the shower and realizes her grandson Yoon Kyung-ho (Lee Joo-seung) is the culprit, he abducts the fanatically religious teen, whose belief that he was God’s instrument makes Park even less certain about divine will.
Leave it to a Korean filmmaker to wrap a story about a sadist who gets no pleasure from his job around a disquisition on God’s invisibility. Also factored in is a pointed criticism of the country’s historical amnesia, which all too often blithely brushes away the period in the ’80s when state torture was considered acceptable. Park gradually reveals his characters’ unspeakable deeds in darkly monochrome flashbacks, unflinchingly lensing a world where faith might help get some through immediate pain but acts as an ineffective salve against lasting torment. The helmer offers no easy answers, just open questions.
Thesping is strong all around, from Gwon’s deadened core where an ember continues to glow, to young Lee Joo-seung’s frighteningly confident psychopath and Lee Haw-si’s yearning warmth. An overly obvious fantasy sequence feels out of place, but otherwise, pacing is tight and the tension doesn’t let up.