As a horror film, Cello tests the viewer’s patience quite a bit, never really seeming to know what kind of horror film it wants to be and being rather unfocussed as to the source of the not-particularly-scary events – you would expect it to be based around a cello, but it takes a rather long time to get there. If you stick with it however and can get past some of the rather sillier happenings as the horror slowly unfolds, the film does come together to deliver a chilling and effective conclusion.
It is however difficult at first to grasp what kind of horror film Cello really is. At first, it seems to work around a revenge plot instigated by a disgruntled student, angry at temporary music theory professor, Mi-ju Hong (Seong Hyeon-ah) for failing her in an important exam that would have enabled her to get to the school she wants - but this seems to fall into the background as events in the Hong household gradually start to take on a horrifying life of their own. Then there is the creepy new housekeeper - unable to speak having once drank acid in a suicide attempt after losing her family in a car crash, she seems to have an unsettling effect on the house. Mi-ju’s mentally disabled daughter Yoon-jin also could be the cause of the disturbances in the house when she suddenly starts prematurely menstruating and takes on a sudden urge to take up playing of the cello, perhaps having an unusual sensitivity to supernatural events.
In this way the film ticks over, leaving you wondering whether it wants to be a Ring-type horror (Mi-ju finds a tape recording of a cello concerto which seems to have an unsettling effect on her when she plays it while driving home and leaves it around to be picked up later in the film by someone else), the Ju-on (The Grudge) revenge on a household (complete with the obligatory Asian ghost with long black hair) or a Carrie-like supernatural coming-of-age horror. For long periods in Cello then there is no real foundation to the slowly unfolding terror, which seems randomly and at a measured pace to flit between horror types, causing unsettlement and confusion without creating any real sense of mounting tension, though there is certainly some intrigue in trying to figure out how it is all going to come together. And when those events start to take on critical mass, there still seems to be no rhyme or reason behind them and the viewer may lose patience at the rather silly playing around with what seem like predictable horror conventions.
It must be admitted however, that for all the typical effects of the genre – the floating shape that enters a bedroom and wakes Mi-ju, the car that suddenly starts to bear down on her in an underground car park – the film doesn’t rely on the cheap shocks of random jump cuts. And what keeps it going through the rather long first half of random scatterings of mild, unconvincing scares and events that appear to offer limited potential or originality, is the suspicion that anything could happen when the film reveals the source of the horror. And it’s here that the film fully redeems itself, cleverly tying everything together and coming through in a satisfactorily grim and bloody manner with a traditional though effective twist that leaves the viewer with a nice shiver down the spine.
Cello is released on DVD in Korea by EnterOne. The DVD is nicely packaged in an amaray case with an insert in a gatefold box. The Limited Edition also contains the film’s soundtrack on a CD included as a second disc. The DVD is in NTSC format and encoded for Region 3.
The picture quality is excellent overall. There is a little bit of grain that seems to be more to do with macro-blocking compression than natural film grain and there is some sign of telecine wobble, but only in one or two sequences. Generally though the image is stable and perfectly balanced in terms of colour, contrast and brightness – blacks are strong, though slightly flat in darker scenes, though quite good considering that they are never usually that great on Korean releases. Minor marks and dustspots are occasionally visible.
The DVD gives you a choice of DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks. In a film that for the most part is fairly restrained in its action, most scenes taking place in a family home which is unusually quiet, there are not any great demands placed on the surround mixes. The subwoofer and rear speakers do inevitably come to life in a few key scenes, but are not particularly showy. Elsewhere the soundtrack is fine, with clarity and tone in dialogues, also handling silences well.
Optional English subtitles are provided in white font. For the most part they are fine and read well, but occasional glitches slip into the grammar and spelling on occasions. It seems to get worse as the film progresses, as if the translator either got bored with the film or perhaps was too scared by what was happening on the screen! Well, maybe not…
Coming without subtitles on the extra features, as all Korean releases do, and a second disc that is only a soundtrack CD, the extra features look disappointing but are actually worth a look and a listen. The Commentary is the only extra that is of no value at all to English language speakers. There is little that you will get either from the Q&A with director and actors in the Making Of (36:10), but at least half of this is also made up of a behind-the-scenes look at shooting scenes with effects and make-up – notably, the application of blood in a lot of scenes. Most of this is dialogue free and doesn’t require subtitles. No subtitles required either for the Music Video (3:19) which sets scenes from the film to Jem’s ‘They’ - an unusual choice of song – or the Trailer (1:49) and the creepier Teaser (1:32), which both rely heavily on mood. Inevitably in a film like this, the extra features are filled with spoilers. The soundtrack CD is also a fabulous addition for this particular film and an extra feature that is accessible to everyone being made up of beautiful Bach violin and cello pieces, Lee Hannah’s fine original score and the recording of ‘Rainy Melody’ used in the film.
Cello is a nicely crafted horror film that doesn’t cheat the viewer with daft tricks to make you jump and doesn’t feel the need to fill screen with gore, so if you like Descent this probably isn’t going to be your thing. It is rather a complete film that fully and convincingly explains all the little random mysteries it has quietly sown along the way, tying it all together with an eerily effective conclusion. It’s not particularly original in its methods and probably too evenly paced for most serious horror fans, refusing to provide the usual pointers and chills at key points, but it moves along quite nicely to its own pace and mood with unnerving precision – very much like one of Bach's cello suites. EnterOne’s R3 DVD is up to the usual standard for Korean releases and maybe even a little better than most, with some good extra features that don’t require English subtitles.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:05:56