Edinburgh International Film Festival

Pluto (2012)

Starring: David Lee, June Sung, Sung-ha Cho, Kwon Kim, Joo-ah Seon

Directed by: Su-won Shin

Rating: 1 2 3 4

David Lee as June in Pluto

Ever feel nostalgic for your school days? Watching South Korean teen drama Pluto will soon cure you of that. Set in a creepy hothouse school for mega-brains that makes Eton look like Grange Hill, it's a chilling reminder, Lord of the Flies style, of how cruel, ruthless and downright psychopathic children can be.

The crème de la crème of this merciless institute (which also happens to be housed in an ex-government torture facility) is the Special Class, the Top 10 students who vie for exclusive places at Seoul National University and will do anything – and I mean anything – to retain their rank in a brutal supposed meritocracy that in fact has little to do with merit and everything to do with money and influence, bullying tactics and good ol' fashioned cheating. Calling themselves the 'Rabbit Hunters', they're a snobby, supercilious elite headed by suave, manipulative Yujin (June Sung) , the school's No. 1 student.

Into this stifling, competitive world of privilege and over-achievement comes June (David Lee), a science nerd from a poor background who's desperate to fit in. Like the ex-planet Pluto which he champions in a dissertation, June doesn't make the grade in this rarefied atmosphere that orbits around wealth and status, yet he remains determined to crack the Top 10, no matter what it takes.

But when Yujin is found dead and two police detectives arrive at the school to investigate, June is the prime suspect. But as the events leading up to Yujin's death unfold in a series of flashbacks, it transpires that murder is only the tip of the iceberg…

Although perhaps a little too long, Pluto is a great psychological school thriller: think Mean Girls meets Donna Tartt's The Secret History. The moral of the film may be simple (put too much pressure on children and eventually they'll crack) but the plot and characters are anything but: nothing here is black and white, our sympathies shifting between the protagonists as backstories emerge and alliances shift, all building up to a tense, explosive finale.

Pluto is the kind of film that makes me happy to have an international film festival on my doorstep, as it's unlikely I'd have had a chance to see this absorbing, thought-provoking, darkly satirical movie otherwise. But if, unlike June's school, we're judging on merit alone, it's a fine film indeed.

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