Opening with the words from the suicide note of a sixth form student, Korean thriller Pluto perilously takes on the myriad of pressures felt and faced by teenagers growing up in our modern world.
Set in an elite high school where the brutal killing of one of the students, Yujin (Sung Joon), has prompted a police investigation into all involved the prime suspect is June (Lee Da-wit) who it is claimed was jealous of Yujin’s popularity, high test scores and membership of a secretive group only occupied by the top students.
Released from custody June heads back to a hidden section of the school where the remaining pupils who are part of the mysterious clique are gathered and takes them hostage, tying them up with homemade explosives and sending a message to their mothers.
With the authorities desperately searching for the captives in an attempt to stop June we discover that the true story of the murder is much more complicated than it seems as we flashback to June’s first day and the real events that unfolded to transform this mild mannered boy into a monster.
The fact that director Shin Su-won started as a teacher in middle school reveals the insight she has to the stress filled high pressured lives teenagers lead in Korea and Pluto is filled with realistic revelations around June’s school life from his desperation to succeed and fit in to his desire for Mi-ra (Joo-ah Seon) who heartlessly embarrasses him in front of the whole class.
Pluto’s title itself is a reference not only the planets exclusion from the solar system, something June both relates to and scientifically rejects, but also Greek mythology where Pluto is the God of Death.
Far more than a simple school story Shin Su-won who also wrote the script, injects some deeply dark and disturbing elements which heighten the atmosphere of doom and cynicism inside her satire of Korean education.
With its weekly wall mounted display of scores that seemingly make no sense the school is a nightmarish structure of twisted staircases, spooky corridors and hard concrete, as cold and unfeeling as the teachers who populate it and care only about the kids results and their parents money.
The clandestine cabal Yujin and Mi-ra are part of appears at first just to be an snobby gang of intelligent students sharing answers and excluding others they feel are inferior however there is much more going on after dark with this after school club.
Full of nasty secrets and warped rituals to gain acceptance and entry June becomes a puppet for the groups entertainment and must perform a series of challenges which grow in grotesqueness from being humiliated and strangled to the point of suffocation to beating up a tutor and framing his friend and attempting to rape a girl who has crossed the others.
The counter balance of the real and the extreme, the drama and the horror, works wonderfully well in Pluto and in the same way that teenage life is full of conflicts and complications Shin Su-won crafts her characters to be just as complex and multilayered ultimately painting a exposing and explosive portrait of the dark side of adolescence.