Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cadaver (2009)

It seems that I’ve seen plenty of disappointing horror movies set in a morgue. Two disappointing films that come to mind are Unrest and Pathology, both that were stiffer than a corpse. So imagine my trepidation when I set about watching South Korean flick Cadaver, another film set in a morgue. Luckily, Cadaver didn’t arrive DOA and actually contained a solid storyline and a spooky atmosphere!

The film follows a group of first-year medical students as they enter their first autopsy class. The group’s cadaver is a young woman who died under the operating knife and she has a long, carefully stitched-up scar running down her chest. As soon as the students cut into her they begin having horrific nightmares of the girl as well as a one-eyed doctor. One by one they each get locked in the autopsy room and don’t leave until they come out in a body bag, complete with a scar along their chests that matches their cadaver’s. As the survivors try to make sense out of their friends’ deaths, they start to investigate who the cadaver was in life and just what or who might be causing her unrest. Is the cadaver’s angry spirit back for revenge or is someone more tangible responsible for their deaths?

Cadaver is a surprisingly engaging film, despite it seemingly being derivative of other Asian horror stories. It wisely avoids all the stereotypical Asian scares (accept for the appearance of a long-haired ghost…but this appears only briefly) and instead focuses on what the med students are going through and how it affects them. It rises above the limitations of stereotypical Asian ghost stories by melding an intriguing story with stunning visuals and a dark atmosphere.

Director Derek Son creates a foreboding atmosphere from the moment the students step into the cold and clinical autopsy room. He utilizes lots of dark shadows, rainy nights and creaking doors to add to the general unease of both viewer and character. The nightmarish visions of the one-eyed doctor and the cadaver were especially creepy, but I found the scenes within the autopsy room, especially when the students met their deaths, most effective. Not only does Son create a dark mood, but the film is also beautifully shot. Whether a shot of someone running up a winding staircase or a shot of a heart suspended in a medical container, many of the scenes are just stunning.

My only real complaints are that the story gets a bit bogged down and that the characters aren’t all that developed in the first place. After the first heart-stopping kill, there is just not enough time spent on making any of the other kills as interesting. The story starts to get bogged down because there is too much of a gap between the first kill and when the students start investigating their cadaver’s past. During this time the focus is shifted to the characters and their reactions to everything happening, but since there was so little character development in the beginning we really don’t care. The characters themselves aren’t very interesting and seem like stereotypical teens you would find in an American horror movie. There’s the slut, the nerd, the fat slob, the good-lookin’ rich guy and the two characters in love. None of them are particularly interesting, so when the film starts exploring how they are feeling about the situation I don’t really care…I just want to find out what is causing them to die such grisly deaths!

Despite these complaints, Cadaver excels at creating an engaging and mysterious story that you want to unravel as much as the med students do! It really utilizes the setting of the morgue to add scares and tension, so much so that the morgue and autopsy room becomes like an ominous character itself! It is also one of the few “morgue” movies to impress me – it’s got a smart script, stunning visuals and some grisly moments. Cadaver is definitely alive and kicking…

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