Netflix’s latest Korean film Unlocked (스마트폰을 떨어뜨렸을 뿐인데/I Just Dropped My Smartphone) has a lot of good ideas and a solid cast. The themes surrounding technology meshing together with the familiar trappings of the psychological thriller are an interesting idea. But its story and premise feel far more suited for a longer format.
Unlocked begins by following Lee Na Mi (Chun Woo Hee), a marketing manager at a startup. She loses her phone on the bus after a night out with friends and it gets picked up by the mysterious Oh Jun Yeong (Im Siwan).
Unfortunately for Na Mi, Jun Yeong turns out to be a meticulous serial killer who uses cell phones to get his victims’ lives into his own hands. Using the information he culls from the ubiquitous devices, Jun Yeong is able to manipulate his victims’ lives and lure them to their grisly fates.
On the hunt for the emerging serial killer is detective Woo Ji Man (Kim Hee Won) who, after some damning evidence, believes his son is the culprit.
Unlocked unfolds as Jun Yeong pursues Na Mi and takes care of obstacles that get in his way. But Na Mi isn’t one to give up without a fight and along with Detective Woo, they attempt to catch the culprit in his own game.
Unlocked is interesting as it might feel a bit predictable until the final act where some surprising twists pop up. Finding out Jun Yeong is a killer is not supposed to be a surprise. But finding out how he is able to manipulate the information he finds in order to become a killer is what carries the proceedings.
Still, the film’s main focus is more on the light psychological aspects of the story. In fact, the film’s most frightening aspect is in the way it shows how much of our lives is contained in our cell phones. So much so that, obviously, a serial killer can exploit a victim’s life in order to execute the perfect murder.
There is an uncomfortable tension throughout the film. One that is not unbearable, but a sort of hovering cloud that permeates every scene. It’s not the kind of edge of your seat thrill. Or even the kind of heavy psychological torture.
But the fact that it isn’t as heavy as it could be makes it even more unsettling as it gives the story a grounded and relatable feeling that makes the premise possible in our everyday lives.
Though the film chugs along nicely, there is a lack of depth for the main characters that is very evident by the end. It makes you wonder how much better the premise could have played out in a longer format like a television series instead. Perhaps allowing more time to dig deeper into the mind of Jun Yeong while maybe even focusing on each of his several victims before ending up with Na Mi.
Chun Woo Hee does a great job as Lee Na Mi. At first, she seems like a helpless damsel in distress. But she emerges as a strong and defiant character later in the film. It’s a wonderful transition that Chun Woo Hee navigates very well.
Kim Hee Won is always a dependable character actor. And he does enough to bring Detective Woo to life. But like with Na Mi, we only skim the surface of their characters and never learn more than what is necessary to get the plot moving. A longer series format would allow for deeper insight that would in turn elevate the overall story.
Which is a bit of a shame for Im Siwan who does what he can with the material given. He has become such a versatile actor. And playing a psychopath is definitely right up his alley, especially after his chilling performance in the excellent Strangers From Hell. So to see him actually held back a bit by the lack of depth to Jun Yeong is a bit sad. Being able to get into the mind of this killer would warrant several episodes of engaging story. And a performance that Im Siwan would easily be able to deliver.
Overall, the film isn’t going to break any new ground. But it does just enough to keep you hooked until the twisty final moments of the film. Unlocked might not end up being too memorable. But ultimately, it’ll be two hours well spent.