Judge Joel Pearce says this Korean horror flick has a major flaw: Cellos are the least frightening of all musical instruments with the possible exception of the sousaphone.
"I didn't kill her…I didn't…"—Mi-ju
Horror movies can perform a number of functions. While the main goal of horror movies is to scare us, they can also make important statements about society, warn us about dangerous decisions, or play on our existing fears to create something truly terrifying. I'm not entirely sure which of these Cello is trying to do, but it has unquestionably failed.
Facts of the Case
Mi-ju (Hyeon-a Seong, The Scarlet Letter) was once a skilled cellist, but now lives out her life as a lowly music instructor, trying to become a full music professor at a local school. Her wrist was wounded in a car accident, and either the physical or emotional scars from that accident have killed her musical career.
After receiving a threat from a former student, Mi-ju begins to be haunted by strange flashbacks from the accident. These flashbacks are accompanied by strange incidents that are affecting her family. Is she just going crazy, or is her family under attack by some supernatural force?
A brief note for aspiring horror directors: I can forgive many things in a horror movie. If it doesn't make sense in spots, I can handle that. After all, the joy in most horror movies comes from the adrenaline ride, not thinking about it afterwards. I feel the same way about plot holes. Cheesy effects and acting can be easily overlooked as well, so long as the audience is having a good time. Whatever you do, though, please don't make your horror movies boring.
To be fair, it must be hard to be a Korean horror director these days. In past years, the horror genre has been even more lucrative than action movies and comedies, so the market has become massively over-saturated. Audiences can't seem to get enough of this stuff, and so the market has been delivering similar films, over and over again.
At first, Cello appears to be doing something at least a little different. It begins as a study of trauma survivors, people plagued by the guilt of seeing loved ones die in horrible tragedies. Survivors' lives are often destroyed by such events, even if their lives seem quite good from the outside. Mi-ju definitely fits this description, as she has clearly not gotten over the pain of her accident, even though she hasn't discussed it with her husband and children. She has allowed this past event to haunt her, and she will never live a peaceful life until she comes to terms with that past trauma. It's a good plot device to hang a horror movie on, especially when it's clear that all of this could just be in Mi-ju's head.
Unfortunately, the structure of the film is all out of whack. We don't get any details about the original accident until the second half of the film, so we spend the first half floundering around, trying to get a grip on what's happening from a few vague references. Also, while the climax is somewhat scary, everything leading up to it is quite mundane. I hope that the horror industry discovers again soon that it takes more than creepy music and weird camera angles to create suspense and fear. Mi-ju walking through her empty house at the beginning of the film isn't scary, because we don't know what she's supposed to find. The creepy music doesn't make it frightening, it just confuses us. This kind of scene goes on for nearly an hour. If we don't know the significance of the cassette tape, showing it to us doesn't evoke any real fear.
To be blunt, I'm getting very tired of movies like this. Because I've seen so many, they are no longer scary, and Cello will quickly melt into the mix of bad Asian horror films that I've seen over the past few months. For every Tale of Two Sisters, about ten terrible retreads come popping out. What was once an exciting new industry that promised to supplant the Hollywood horror industry is now just as bland as the style it replaced. Hopefully we will see another development soon that will revitalize the industry once again.
Tartan Films has done a reasonably good job with the transfer on Cello. The video transfer is washed out, but looks good overall. There are some artifacts that suggest this transfer was mastered from Tartan's PAL DVD, rather than from the original Korean NTSC DVD. For the most part, though, it's an easy image to watch. As is often the case with Tartan's Asia Extreme line, there's a serious flaw with the sound transfer. In this case, all six main channels are full of energy, creating a deep and rich sound stage. The LFE channel, however, is conspicuously silent. There was plenty of meat once I routed the bass from the front channels into the sub, but that shouldn't be necessary with a Dolby 5.1 or DTS track.
There are a few special features, including a fairly generic production featurette that covers all the usual stuff. There is a director commentary as well, which is far more technical than most viewers will find interesting. Beyond that, all we get here is a handful of trailers.
Don't bother with Cello. Even in the carbon copy stream of horror movies from Korea and other parts of Asia recently, many have stood out more than this bore of a movie. It's an example of everything bad that has happened in the industry lately, and hopefully the last I will be forced to sit through over the next while. I have a funny feeling, though, that this will not be the last review like this that I will write.
Guilty, guilty, guilty. This film deserves Mi-ju's fate, though I won't spoil it here.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Production Featurette
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