There can be no doubt that Korean horror is badly in need of a blood transfusion, as the majority of genre films over the last few years have been a pretty anaemic bunch without much in the way of visceral thrills. Strangely, despite the best efforts of the DVD box art, marketing blurb and indeed the rather violent sounding title to convince viewers otherwise, director Son Tae Woong’s “The Cut” isn’t the film to reverse that trend, as it too turns out to be a fairly restrained affair which shies away from graphic carnage. Of course, this is not to suggest that all genre outings require blood and guts in order to entertain, and the film here is a perfect case in point as it more than makes up for the absence of splatter by for once actually trying to be frightening rather than melodramatic, a small but important lesson which many Korean horror directors seem to have forgotten of late.
The plot revolves around medical students attending an expensive medical school who are about to embark on the most gruelling phase of their training as they learn about human anatomy by dissecting corpses. Heading up the main group is nominal protagonist Sun Hwa (actress Han Ji Min, best known for her television work in the likes of “Capital Scandal” and who also recently starred in the film “Blue Swallow”), followed by an apparent potential boyfriend in the form of the weird and twitchy Ki Bum (O Tae Gyung) and the usual motley bunch of horror film stereotypes (the fat guy, the nerd, the pretty boy, the slut, and so on), all of whom, it’s fair to say, have only two chances of surviving the film – slim and none.
On their first day of class, they are introduced to their very own cadaver, a beautiful young woman with a rose tattoo on her breast. This seems to trigger a series of weird events and nightmarish visions, and soon enough people are turning up dead in the morgue, seemingly having performed amateur surgery on themselves. Could a ghost be responsible? Possibly a long haired female ghost, driven by vengeance? For once, the intrepid victims catch on fast, and decide to investigate the history of their mysterious cadaver, something which attracts the attention of the staff, in particular a teacher known as ‘the technician’ (Jo Min Ki), who honestly couldn’t act more suspicious if he tried.
To its credit, “The Cut” is fairly ambitious in that it tries to combine elements of the psycho thriller and traditional ghost films, and it does so with a good amount of success. Certainly, it’s less formulaic than most of its peers, and although the intriguing central mystery eventually goes haywire with a series of wacky revelations packed into the last act, which effectively render the plot laughably senseless, it manages to keep the viewer interested throughout. There is a fair amount of dream vs. reality trickery, though it’s implemented well enough and has the desired effect of keeping the viewer as confused as the characters. The medical theme gives things a boost, and though the film is never likely to be accused of having any actual depth, there is a vague attempt to engage themes of the conflict between science and superstition, and the possible links between the supernatural and mental illness.
Although the film only features a handful of moderately bloody scenes, the cutting up of bodies and the more practical aspects of what happens to people after they die, whether shown graphically or not, always make for creepy subject matter and Son makes full use of this to create a menacingly ghoulish atmosphere. Similarly, mortuaries are inherently spooky places even during the day, and especially in the dead of night, which is when most of the characters rather conveniently, if perhaps not believably, decide to go poking around in there. The school is an ominous, empty maze of gloomy corridors, and though Son seems to be aiming for comparisons with Kubrick’s classic “The Shining”, the film is most likely to remind viewers of “Whispering Corridors”, though this of course is by no means a bad thing. What is probably most pleasing is the fact that the film quite obviously and openly sets out to scare the viewer, and he throws in a good number of shriek scenes, most of which hit the mark.
This should be music to the ears of fright fans, and “The Cut” scores highly for being one of the few genre outings of recent years which is proud to be a horror film. Although it doesn’t really deliver the promised carnage, this can perhaps be forgiven since it arguably offers something even more important, namely good, honest chills.
Son Tae-woong (director) / Jeon Soon-wook, Park Seon-jae (screenplay)
CAST: Han Ji-min