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(The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs Sep 9-Sep 18 in Toronto, Canada. HtN has a ton of coverage from the fest so stay tuned! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

The debut feature from Hong Sung-eun, South Korean drama Aloners highlights the isolation of one person households. The film stars Gong Seung-yeon as Jina, a 20-something call center worker who uses screens to avoid any connection with others which is a common phenomenon in Korea – often addressed as holojok (holo=alone and jok =group).

As a call center worker, Jina also lives in a large apartment building in a small apartment with her bed, television and basic kitchen needs. She eats noodles, watches shows, sleeps, goes to work and rinse and repeat. Her neighbor dares to speak to her which she ignores. Her father dares to call her to deal with the loss of her mother. She ignores it. She is forced to train someone new at work which she can’t escape. The cracks begin to appear in her facade once confronted with someone in her space.

This is Gong’s first feature role (she is known for her television work) and you would never know it by watching her as she captivates the audience with the camera almost always on her. Focused solely on observation of her slight shifts in mood, fear of others, ease of isolation and eventual dipping her toe in to connect with others, we are guided along by cinematographer Youngki Choi who keeps a mostly medium frame, almost as if the awareness of the screen while Gong stares at her own screen keeps us from getting too close to her.

A strange esoteric shift happens as her eyes lift from her many screens to look around and see the world transformed in front of her. Loss and grief surround her on multiple levels as she realizes her only way out of it is through it. Although there are no big moments in the film, director Hong makes the small moments have an incredible impact. A simple phone call to reach out to someone else becomes a huge catalyst for change in Jina’s character. Her monotone mood becomes murkier and life stops just happening. For once, she is taking it in.

For new director/writer/editor Hong Sung-eun, her effortless first film shows great promise of one to watch in coming years. Already winning several awards at festivals in 2021, the film is being represented by MLine Distribution.

– Melanie Addington (@MelAddington)

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Melanie Addington likes watching movies and has worked with the Oxford Film Festival since 2006 in various capacities and became Executive Director in August 2015. She also directs, writes, and produces films and serves on the Mississippi Film Alliance as President. She co-founded OxFilm, the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council's program to lend equipment to Oxford filmmakers.

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