Reviewed by Chris Coombes

Pluto was premiered at the 17th Busan International Film Festival, and screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, where its Director Shin Su-won gained a special mention in the Generation 14plus section.

Shin was a middle school teacher before becoming a film-maker, and she offers a chilling insight to the darker aspects of the Korean education system which she sees as highly competitive and damaging to students, teachers and parents.

The introduction to the film at the Keswick Film Club last Sunday warned that this was not a perfect film but that it demonstrates real potential with regard to its Director. I would absolutely agree with this analysis. It was extremely competently filmed and covered a wide range of fascinating and disturbing issues that affect young people today – and which therefore affect us all - and I found it great food for thought.

Pluto is a story of a class of elite high school seniors who go to extremes to guarantee entry into the university of their choice. They are very unpleasant and ruthless and we wonder what in particular it is about their upbringing and/or environment that has robbed them of their humanity and warmth.

June, a transfer student into the school, is bitterly disappointed by his exam results. He discovers that the elite students are sharing secret notebooks, which contain important exam information. In order to get his hands on the notebooks he begs the members of the secret circle to include him. They task him with a series of missions to earn them, turning June into a monster in the process.

The school is literally built on top of a torture chamber that was used by the old political regime – helping us to make, perhaps over simplistic, comparisons with that and the new era of technology and social media obsessed meritocracy. The chamber is the place where June acts on his extreme loneliness and hurt by becoming the monster who is capable of killing himself along with his fellow students. In the final moments of the film he speaks of his hopelessness and lack of friendship, whilst his true friend lies badly injured in hospital - unable to help him. This is a sad and affecting scene, particularly as it is linked to an eclipse, emphasizing the closing of the light, and inviting us to place the events of the story into a wider, global, universal context. I thought about the harm that happens to disaffected young people, I thought about high school massacres and I thought about our world's dependence on 'communication' via social media.

An interesting slant on an oft-told story then, supported by some strong performances amongst the lead characters. However, the plot was difficult to follow as it zipped from present to past with few helpful hints as to how the whole thing came together. Some of the performances seemed to me to be very wooden. The glimpses we had of the parents, teachers and two very odd policemen were almost comical, cartoonish rather than real; this was a little disorientating in amongst some of the heavier moments in the film and left me feeling unsure of what I had seen. I don't know if the fact that Pluto comes from a culture very different from my own was the reason for this or whether it was at times just odd. Given all that, I would not have missed it. It was thoroughly absorbing.