The shift from offbeat to bonkers can be glorious. For Maggie, an erratic structure mirrors the film’s examination of truth, perception and trust – but unfortunately in a way that comes across as more haphazard than inspired.
Admittedly there’s nothing orderly or logical about the way our minds can take a simple fact and construct a complex narrative of half-truths and projections around it. Yi Ok-seop’s Maggie dives into the snowball effect, following the unexpected consequences of a peculiar hospital prank. So when it finally reveals its eponymous narrator – a possibly psychic catfish – that’s a pleasant lift from the jumble of oddness and navel-gazing that goes on around it.
It’s not without splashes of genius. The tone is substantially carried by a solid dose of deadpan humour, and the look is appealing; dreamily lit but with a sense of the fantastical elements being grounded in our reality. And Lee Joo-young’s Yoon-Young is a wonderfully sensitive, nuanced guide through this world, as her Busan International Film Festival Actress of the Year award attests.
Co-writer Koo Kyo-hwan as Yoon-Young’s boyfriend Yi Seng Won is also beautifully rounded – apparently a mooching wastrel, but disarmingly honest, too. His complicated relationships with his colleagues on the road crew provide some of the warmest, most touching moments, though their connection to the central theme feels tenuous at times. And that just adds to a sense of cognitive exhaustion that makes Maggie drag more than anything this inventive should.
Maggie would almost certainly work better at either a third of or three times the length; as an incisive short film or a fully developed, experimental novel. As it is, some themes seem to play on a loop, while others are picked up and dropped down one of the many sinkholes that open up mysteriously across South Korea on screen.
CAST: Lee Joo-young, Moon So-ri, Koo Kyo-hwan
DIRECTOR: Yi Ok-seop
WRITERS: Koo Kyo-hwan, Yi Ok-seop
SYNOPSIS: After a tryst is captured on a hospital X-ray machine and the resulting images circulated, nurse Yeo Yoon-Young believes she’s the one in the spotlight – and her concerns only snowball from there.