Wednesday, May 20

Death Bell 고死: 피의 중간고사 (2008)

Killer exams, literally. Students and teachers race to solve puzzles in this breakneck-paced torture royale.

Rating: 3

Picture glossy torture porn Saw but with high school students and it's enough to make one squirm uncomfortably. Death Bell doesn't hold back with the set-up of violence about to committed but thankfully isn't compelled to dwell on the details. Still, this is not as safe as Whispering Corridors, and it cleanly slays any of the earlier Korean horror movies set in a private high school, a genre that seems to have disappeared until Death Bell came along.

The first 30 minutes deliberately mislead: Kang Yi-na (K-Pop singer Nam Gyu-ri) dreams of being chased down by zombies while another student seems to be going crazy. This all takes place on the week of their midterms and the teachers are blaming it all on the stress of studying. Immediately after the test, the top twenty students are asked to participate in an exhibition class along with another exclusive school.

On the day of the special class, the top student disappears. Before the class could even start, a disembodied voice announces over the PA the real killer test: Solve the puzzle or a student dies. The classroom TV flickers on showing a student trapped inside an enclosed aquarium that is slowly filling up with water.

Death Bell is the directorial debut of music video director Chang, the Nine Inch Nails hip macabre clearly shows his roots. Familiarity with the short form also gives Chang a good pacing instinct. Once the death bell rings announcing a new test, the lights flicker, the shadows stretch, the unseeable shock in glimpses: a flash of silver, a door shatters.

But the MV-esque skittish quick edits does annoy sometimes. For the fans of this genre, Takashi Miike's unflinchingly at-your-face slicing and dicing that approaches journalistic factualness in Audition is still the holy grail of torture, his Ichi the Killer still the sovereign of whimsical torment.

Death Bell is simply too trendy to be scary.

The student murders also do not have the resonance of grief that saturates cult-classic Battle Royale. And though the violence is not overtly graphic, Chang's lack of concern for the characters does make the polished torture pornographic.

고死: 피의 중간고사 (Death Bell)
Directed by Chang
Starring Lee Beom-soo, Yeon Jeong-hee, Kim Beum

Photos via HanCinema


Faye said...

I saw it last night. There were moments where I almost had a heart attack. Damn good movie. Not too gory to make run to the toilet to throw up.

Thor Bee said...

Tension build up was very good. Though I have to admit Kim Bum compelled me to watch this movie.

dodo dayao said...

Lalo ko na tuloy gustong panoorin 'to. Nabitin ako sa 4bia. Kailangan ko ng seryosong kilabot. Hehe. Maganda daw yung Korean horror (K-horror?) na Red Shoes, may nakapanood na sa inyo?

Thor Bee said...

Ok lang yung Red Shoes. A single mom and her 7-year old kid fighting over shoes, hehe. More atmospheric than scary but a far cry from Tale of Two Sisters. Maganda yung eksena na parang Exorcist kaso dugo yung inihi ng bata.

The feet getting cut off of whoever was wearing those shoes (sometime at the beginning of the movie) was difficult painful to watch.

dodo dayao said...

Sounds like . . .fun. Hehe. Will go watch. Also have a Russian movie na matagal ko nang binili but I've forgotten about, Dead Daughters. Love that title. Will go queue that up as well. Hopefully, tumatakbo pa.