Fantastic Cinematography + Great Psychological Concepts + An Unnerving Finale = A Great Film
Unfortunately, Abnormal Beauty is one of those films that will annoy a lot of people, because it does not have enough explicit violence to please the gorehounds, yet contains enough to anger everyone else. It seems that almost all of the negative reviews I've seen are either the gorehounds complaining about the first "boring" hour, or the fans of psychological horror complaining about the "gratuitousness" of the last half hour. I think they both miss the point. Just like the critics of Audition.
The violence is not gratuitous here. There is a heaping amount of character development in this film that sets up the finale. This is not empty, sensationalistic tripe that Hollywood loves to release (e.g., Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes, etc.). If someone insists that Abnormal Beauty is gratuitous, then they are effectively saying that explicit violence cannot be used in a film without being so. This is a closed-minded Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of the most blatant type.
The second most complained about feature of this film (following complaints regarding the violence) was the introduction of the killer. Critics claim that he is a Deus ex Machina. The critics are wrong. Abnormal Beauty is not a murder mystery. It's a psychological horror film. The filmmakers are not obligated to present a trail of clues for the viewer to make a probable, educated guess at the identity of the killer. The purpose of presenting the killer is to introduce the perfected state of Jiney's undeveloped psychological affliction in an attempt to cure her of that affliction.
Jiney spends most of the time BEHIND the camera, initiating her mental and sexual fulfillment by viewing the death of living things. At the same time, however, she's becoming more and more detached from reality. This is also manifested by the other subplots, which include her tormenting past and her dysfunctional relationship with her mother - events which she is unable to come to terms with.
Even after her semi-revelation, she is still deeply affected by the pictures that she finds in her locker. She's not fully cured of her affliction yet. Remember, the camera is an important symbol/analogy in this film. Jiney is so helplessly reliant on detachment that she desperately needs the camera to be turned against her. Enter the killer, who places Jiney IN FRONT of the camera, thus forcing her to face reality. This is essential for the filmmakers to culminate the underlying psychological concepts of Abnormal Beauty.
In addition, if I were a sadistic freak working in a library and saw a hot young girl check out a dozen works of literature featuring sadistic pictures, how the hell could I not take notice?
Another complaint of critics is the final scene, which reveals that the lead character killed her cousin. Critics claim that this is an ad hoc, after-the-fact invocation to cheaply explain the movie. The critics are wrong. The traumatic child-hood event at the very end of the film was not the origin of Jiney's psychological condition. That event was already introduced near the beginning of the film: Jiney was sexually abused by her cousin, and her mother didn't believe her. The fact that she pushed her cousin down the stairs is merely a reflection of the negative effects that that initial event had on her. Did you see her face while she was standing at the top of the stairs? It was blank and emotionless - completely detached. The final scene adds emphasis to her psychological breakthrough and reminds us of what she overcame - she is now living again.
And yes, this is much more demanding of the viewer's intelligence than all the carbon-copy garbage coming out of Hollywood nowadays. So this film may not be for the lazy. If you can appreciate smart psychological horror coupled with effective, explicit violence, then you can't go wrong here. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who can't appreciate one or the other, which explains the negative reaction to this film.
After reading online reviews and discussing this film with others, I am convinced that this is the most underrated, under-appreciated East Asian horror film of the last decade. I've seen 73 East Asian horror films. Abnormal Beauty is better than 70 of them. It comes second only to A Tale of Two Sisters and Kairo.