Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Saw Academy: "Death Bell" (2009)

This gruesome horror flick from South Korea is full of over the top performances, lots of gore, meaningless dream sequences, and nubile teenage girls...it's just screaming to be remade in the United States.

Ina (Gyu-ri Nam) is a typical boarding school student getting ready for midterm tests. After the tests, the high school's sister school is sending a visiting team, so a couple of classes full of the elite students will be staying behind during vacation. The students will be watched over by the humorless Miss Choi (Shin-ae Yu) and the nice but tough Mr. Kim. Bad boy Hyun has taken a liking to Ina, and she sneaks out to see him DJ at a local club. The stress of the exams get to Beom, who promptly flips out and begins seeing ghostly visions.

The almost-empty school is suddenly terrorized via intercom and closed circuit TV. A mysterious voice demands the school's smartest students begin to solve tough word and math problems, or else someone will die. All the telephones have been disconnected, cell phones are gone, and the students and teachers bear witness to some bloody killing that seem to involve the ghost of the dead classmate Beom may or may not have seen.

This film owes A LOT to "Saw." I only "saw" the first two "Saw" films, but picked up on similarities right away. However, director/co-writer Yoon Hong-Seung throws in enough thrills to make this recommendable. Co-writing with Kim Eun-Kyeong, the "Saw" elements are overshadowed (but oddly enhanced) by the good ol' slasher-film elements. I turned my brain off, and was surprised by the final explanatory scenes. Jun-seong Kim's musical score is incredible, a Jerry Goldsmith-inspired Gothic masterpiece. Yoon's direction covers the occasional plot missteps well, the film moves at a brisk pace and ratchets up the tension in many a scene, playing some dark comedy when need be (watch for the final scene over the end credits). The film does run a little longer than it needs to, but Yoon's visuals are creepy enough.

While not the scariest film to come out of the Far East, "Death Bell" is a strong entry in the South Korean horror genre. If you stick your head out the window and listen intently, you can almost hear a producer somewhere asking if Sarah Michelle Gellar is available for the remake. (* * * *) out of five stars.