Directed by Woo-cheol Lee
For my money, nothing beats a good cello in a horror movie. The sound of those bass strings are instrumental (pun intended) in any good creeper, so it comes as no surprise that it’s finally become the subject of an entire movie.
If the box art doesn’t immediately clue you in, this is yet another Asian ghost fest from South Korea – a nation that continues to milk every drop from the rusty post-Ring machine. But don’t write this one off just yet. While there are plenty of flaws to be found, this is still an ambitious film that’s head and shoulder above most recent knock-offs. Directed with class by Woo-cheol Lee, Cello is beautifully shot and acted with a rich score and several genuinely shocking scenes.
Mi-ju Hong is a tortured musician and the lone survivor of a tragic car accident. (No, this isn’t Carnival of Souls. Read on). Years afterwards, she has started life anew as a teacher with her own family, and everything seems just peachy. That is, until the sudden purchase of an old cello ushers strange supernatural forces into her household and slowly begins to drive the residents mad.
One thing that separates Cello from the rest of its ilk is the unexpected cruelty. We’ve seen countless films where the family unit becomes the target of angry supernatural forces, but there’s always been that barrier where everyone is safe from any real harm (hell, even Kubrick didn’t waste the mother and son in The Shining). Not the case here. Young or old, innocent or otherwise, no member of this family is safe from a bloody and unpleasant demise. If anything, Cello is a film that shows no mercy, and it’s a pity more filmmakers don’t take these kinds of risks.
Cello is marred by a seriously convoluted script. As with all Asian horrors, we’re dealing with a slow-burn mystery, but this time it works against the film. All the key details are scatter-shot, resulting in a story that is nowhere near as involving as it should be and revelations that feel more like after-thoughts. We never fully understand the world of Mi-yu (which is detrimental to plot) and there’s a lengthy subplot involving a vengeful music student that is one of the most painfully obvious red herrings you’ll ever see. Sure, there are scares and the ending packs a solid gut-punch, but much like The Pang Brothers’ The Eye, this a film chock full of great moments that never form into a cohesive whole.
The disc itself is rather light on extras, which is unusual considering Tartan’s trend for meaty packages. But this being a foreign film, one can’t really gripe, and the few bits we get are choice. There’s an interesting behind-the-scenes featurette and the usual reel of Asia Extreme trailers along with a great subtitled commentary track. On the technical side the feature looks and sounds great, just like the rest of Tartan’s releases.
Cello may be surfing in on the backwash of a dying subgenre, but it has just enough going to keep it afloat. If you’re looking for a quick supernatural fix, you could do a whole lot worse.
Behind the scenes with cast and crew
Original theatrical trailer
3 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
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