Sunday, November 23, 2008

Death Bell (Korea 2008)

Akin to more well-known movies like Saw and even Japan's Battle Royale, Death Bell (고死: 피의 중간고사) may not be the most original horror movie ever conceived, but it's entertaining enough so that it doesn't necessarily have to be. Some genuinely startling moments, and creativity help make this film worthwhile.

Chang-in Foreign Language high school is preparing for it's special class, consisting of the top 20 students, to cram for the upcoming college entrance exams and to help put on a great face for the school. The pressure to succeed in school can put a tremendous strain on the students, but Mr. Hwang (Lee Beom-soo), is there to help guide these students to success. However, during the first day of the special class, a mentally unstable student begins to see things that may or may not be there. His behavior becomes erratic and the authorities are brought in to take him away. Could the stress of the exam be that great? Once the children have calmed down, a strange song begins to play over the PA system and a mysterious person with a disguised voice begins to address the class. The school television monitors then show one of their classmates trapped within a glass aquarium that has a math problem written on it. He instructs the class that they have to figure out the problem or the girl will die, and that if they try to leave the school, they too will be killed. No one can figure out what is going on, and aren't quite sure they believe what they're seeing...until the girl in the aquarium begins to drown. The students begin disappearing one by one, and Mr. Hwang, along with English teacher Choi So-yeong (Yoon Jeong-hee), and the remaining students, have to figure out more puzzles in order to save the these kids. Eventually, one of the students, I-na (Nam Gyoo-ri), figures out that the students are being taken according to their rankings in the school exam. Now the group knows who to keep their eyes on, but who's killing these kids, and why? When the truth is discovered, everyone begins to question who they trust.

Death Bell doesn't try very hard to differentiate itself from the popular horror movie Saw. The children are each taken and placed in near-death situations that are almost impossible to get out of. The only difference is the victims are counting on the smarts of their peers to get them out alive. If you're into gore movies with clever trappings, than you'll more than likely enjoy this films way of presenting things. The presentation is enthralling, and really does a great job in creating a tense situation. I particular like some of the creative death scenes, as morbid as that sounds. The actors are all more than competent, which is high praise considering I hate child actors. There is a sub-plot with the aforementioned mentally unstable student seeing ghosts, but that story isn't told very well and seems to clash with the rest of the movie, when in fact it should be better intertwined. Like any horror movie, there are moments where you question the actions of the characters because they seem so absurd and illogical, but then you realize it's all part of the fun. My biggest gripe has to do with the ending, which I hate admitting almost as much you probably hate reading. When you realize who or what is behind all of the killing, it will seem completely unfathomable, especially considering how intricate the kidnappings and killings were played out. Sadly, you'll also question why the these students were being killed in the first place.

It clearly borrows ideas from proven successful films, but Death Bell still does enough on it's own to keep you entertained while following the whodunit storyline. There are problems with the film, but forgiving audiences can definitely overlook them and just have a good time (and a good scare), and Death Bell will fit the bill just fine. (Lee)

Grade: C+


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