Saw set in a Seoul school
It’s Saturday in Seoul. Twenty intelligent high school graduates have gathered for some special tutoring to prepare for the university’s entry exam. What they didn’t anticipate, is that their very lives will depend on their correct answers when they find themselves targeted by an anonymous killer, who is about to turn this exam into a merciless game of torture, horror and death.
Meanwhile it’s been more than three months since I watched Death Bell at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Films. And since I watched a whole lot of other crap in the meantime, I’m glad I took some notes and wrote down impressions after seeing this film, otherwise I’m afraid I wouldn’t have remembered that much of it. By that I certainly don’t mean that Death Bell is a bad movie. Quite the contrary, it’s a very amusing horror flick with exhilarating gore and a dazzling fast pace. Originality, however, isn’t the film’s biggest trump as it borrows plot ideas and stylistic elements from various other and more famous horror movies. Death Bell somewhat describes itself as meets (with some subtle touches of ghostly J-Horror), in which a bunch of high school students and their teachers desperately try to escape the imaginative death traps of a maniacal killer. Twenty of the most intelligent, but also sickly competitive and pompous students of a prominent Seoul high school attend a special exam held on a Saturday. Suddenly classical music plays through the speakers and the television monitor displays images of one missing student trapped in an aquarium, slowly filling up with water. The exits are sealed, the contact with the outside world is cut off and the group finds themselves subjected to the lethal and perverted games of a deranged killer. But who is he and what are his motives?
Co-writer and director Yoon (who was a guest at the festival and appears to be incredibly young) has obviously watched and studied a whole lot of contemporary popular horror movies and knows exactly what it takes to please a large crowd of fans. The death traps are complex and implausible – like the ones in all the Saw movies – but they definitely guarantee extended moments of suspense and a lot of gruesome bloodshed. The make-up and sound effects are fantastic, so if you have the opportunity to see this film in a theater or with luxurious home cinema equipment, you definitely will be overwhelmed. We’re dealing with typical Asian high school students here, like they appear in numerous movies, but the film does its best to provide many character backgrounds and personality details, that also prove to be relevant. Considering the subject matter, similar to the Saw franchise, the script is often incoherent and extremely implausible (example: How could one individual plan such a hi- tech and accurate large-scaled massacre? Where did he find the time? How did this go unnoticed?), but you’re easily willing to overlook that, thanks to the entertainment value. The identity of the killer and his reasons might be fairly predictable, but then again, this is a film that primarily relies on inventive shocks, outrageous gore and slick cinematography.