Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Cadaver ศพ (2006)

Med school never looked so hilarious before

I'm convinced that Cadaver must be a horror comedy. You see, it's set in med school, where students have to learn how to dissect cadavers. Let's face it: if you get squeamish about the blood - or worse, if you're like the female protagonist of this movie, you think that the cadavers are haunting you - I'm pretty sure the dean will just transfer you out or get you expelled from med school. Here, though, the dean and vice-dean just counsel the poor girl while she turns up in school every morning with increasingly puffy panda eyes (yes, for some reason the cadavers haunt the girl at home, in the night) to scream or faint from a perceived ghoulish attack. It gets pretty hilarious thereafter: in a key scene, the dean demands to know why the girl is so superstitious about handling cadavers and having hallucinations about ghosts, but you realise he can't be asking a serious question because the shrouded cadavers in this med school arrive wrapped in garlands and remain wrapped in garlands even in the dissecting studio. I mean, it has to be a bit of a joke, right? The med school is apparently full of students, but its corridors are empty in all but one scene in the movie.

Sadly, though, this is yet another top-grossing horror movies of 2006 in Thailand, leading me to suspect that audiences go to cinemas to have a brainless time. I hesitate to say that these movies are entertaining per se: the spate of Thai horror films of the past year are just plain awful (a Thai film last year used clanging cymbals and wayang kulit music to invoke horror), plain stupid (a twist ending in another film revealed out of nowhere that the ghosts were haunting a baby because it killed student protestors in another life!?), or annoyingly offensive (ghost stories set in a former Cambodian torture camp, anyone?). Ergo, the horror movie genre of late in Thailand is solely for the taste of local audiences who don't mind badly-conceptualised, half-baked narratives as long as they provide the obligatory loud noises, people in green, grey, or white makeup, and jingly jangly wayang kulit music.

I'm not even going to try to go into the mind of Singaporean audiences who'd want to watch these horror movies because they were the box-office heavyweights in Thailand, so I'll just mention stuff that will strike the minds of ordinary moviegoers when they watch Cadaver.

Sight and sound
It's not bad, Cadaver does take a step forward for Thai horror film. The director here seems to figure out that wayang kulit music and clashing cymbals does not make people feel scared, and follows the Hollywood trend of basing the horror movie on sudden, loud noises that will be amplified a thousand-fold by the cinema speakers. Visually, Cadaver indicates that Thai directors have still not outgrown the peak-a-boo kabuki ghosts that they imported from Japan, and are beginning to import the 70s Hollywood shower horror scenes, but perhaps the most horrifying detail about this film is how unscary the ghoul looks - you'll jump out of your seat only because of the loud sound effects.

As mentioned, the premise is just incompetent, but I'm willing to overlook that just because Cadaver does not have a silly twist ending. It seems the director does have a head on his shoulders, wisely avoiding how other directors sink their already mediocre horror movies. I applaud the director in shifting the twist from the last 5 minutes of the movie to the end of the second act. If done well, the first act becomes a standard collection of pointless scare tactics that build up to an unexpectedly richer story in the second and third acts. In Cadaver though, the twist just turns the first act into incomprehensible nonsense, the second into an overlong and tedious buildup, and the final act into an anti-climax that lacks any real surprises.

It's very hard to take Cadaver and its ilk seriously at all, and it's very difficult to be frightened by their offerings. However, if Cadaver is any indication at all, Thai horror films could well turn out to be genuinely scary... in about 10 years' time.

First published at incinemas on 19 April 2007

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