Cyberbullying is as real as public shaming, but there will always be people who don’t take it seriously. Get off your computer, they say. Real world’s outside. What they don’t understand is that to some people, the internet experience was a real one: it’s a second world that’s as real as the ‘real’ one. Socialphobia tells you how it both world correlates, and both kind of public shaming, both in the cyber world or in real life, are equally as terrifying and harmful.
Socialphobia, the debut feature by South Korean director Hong Seokjae, started the story with a hot topic in a social media – a suicide of a Korean man who deserted his post and killed himself. While the rest of the social media offered their condolensces – the words blending in the background into some kind of mozaic as their opinions and words are uniform – one Twitter screenshot stood out from the rest: a tweet from a woman who said something particularly ‘insensitive’ about suicide.
Before long, everyone in the social media sphere was ganging up on her, calling her names; but she didn’t back down, she continued her stance. And so a group of young men decided to expose her identity and even going as far as to visit her in her home, only to find that the girl had committed suicide. The story went on as they noticed the possibility of a murder, and they returned to the scene to investigate it.
From the start, Socialphobia already made it obvious that technology was the centerpiece of the film, that the theme was revolved around it. We see Socialphobia‘s world – the “keyboard warriors” world – from the eyes of our protagonist, Kim Ji Woong, who is an outsider to this culture because he disconnected himself from his phone for a while. His figure, from the first shot of the film, is already isolated as he put a wall around him using earphones. Even the conflict of the film was revealed first to the audience and then him from the mouths of his friends.
Socialphobia set up itself as a social commentary, even though it was clear that it ended up transforming more into the murder mystery before it came back to the previous theme, but instead of balancing both, it ultimately lose focus of the two.
My first complain was how underdeveloped the characters are, particularly the main characters. Even though the theme in the film was very realistic (it was a theme that I’m familiar with) the characters felt empty. We never really know or find out anything about them and so it was difficult for the audience to connect or care with them. The least underdeveloped was Min Hayoung’s, even though her character was obviously set up to be ‘unknowable’ to the audience until the end.
There are also some irregularities in this film, mostly revolving to the mystery theme. The suicide itself had an irregularity, where the other lies on how time during the incident was unclear to the audience. The twist at the end, in the revelation (not the identity of the suspected killer – which is very well set up in my opinion – but rather their ‘evidence’ of him doing it) was never set up the first time we watched it to the point like it seemed only to throw audience of their feet with an unexpected plot twist that was truly unexpected because there was never any indication of it ever happening. The information was always kept from us – and so the plot twist came off forced.
What I really liked from this film was that it was very well-acted. The young actors were great and believable. That aside, I felt like I missed something I would’ve appreciated if I were to be fluent in Korean, as not all of the Twitter screenshots delivered to the screen was translated. Although it wasn’t visually interesting (one of the most appreciated way to show social media on screen was still held by Supreme Tweeter), I felt like those things added to the substance: substance that I completely missed in entirety.
Socialphobia set up itself as a social commentary, even though it was clear that it ended up transforming more into the murder mystery before it came back to the previous theme, but instead of balancing both, it ultimately lose focus of the two. It’s a story about how people can get particularly argumentative on social media, and how consequences come with it. It is also about taking up different identities in the cyber world and how we don’t really know what people are really doing in their corner, even with our close friend.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5