A music professor and former cellist lives an ordered life with her husband, 2 daughters, and her sister until this status begins to unravel in Korean horror/chiller Cello. Hong Mi-ju (Seong Hyeon-ah) has a nice house, loving family, and enviable career, but cracks start to appear when she's threatened by a former pupil over a failed exam. Sinister texts, a dead bird and a near-miss in a car park are all worrying signs for Mi-ju, but these tangible proceedings are only the beginning of the increasingly bizarre events which befall her. Could the pupil be behind the goings on? Or Maybe the creepy housekeeper? Find out in this surprisingly decent film from writer/director Lee Woo-chul.
Korea is increasingly becoming a nation of horror producers on a par with Japan for the ever-popular Asian Horror market. Films like A Tale of Two Sisters and names like Park Chan-wook have upped the Korean bid to be forthright in the market dominated by Japanese Ringu-type scares. Recent Japanese horrors like Ju-On: The Grudge 2 have milked the now tiresomely familiar frights dry, with the narrative taking a backseat as a fluff filler for the effects. Cello, though, thankfully does the opposite as an engaging, story-driven horror where minimal scare effects function to enhance the story, rather than the other way around.
Woo-chul's film works for the most part by an ascending feeling of off-key, rather than blatant shock tactics. Paranoia and suspicion fuel the general feeling of unrest, while the few but well-placed frights elevate the horror elements. As less of an effects-laden film, the odd well-framed shot inputs a creepy atmosphere, with the house itself taking on an especially noticeable characteristic of the very subtly surreal. Weirdness personified by the housekeeper and Mi-ju's silent, autistic child keep you guessing, as does her former pupil in a superb turn of effectively creepy bimbo-ness. What begins as a complex weave of plot devices culminates in a traditional ghost-story ending, with the odd inclusion of the Asian-type scares we've become accustomed to. There is a slightly arthouse feel to the film at times, which aids the off-key atmosphere and the initial complexities of the plot make you think rather than just absorb the chills. The subtly creepy atmosphere only heightens the effect of the shocks, none more so than the genuinely brutal realism of Mi-ju's unintentionally horrific act towards the end. You get the feeling that this film wasn't intended to be a cinematic great, but rather an above average and quietly individual chiller, and as such it succeeds.
If long black hair as a scare tactic has worn a little thin with you, then this engaging, story-driven horror could be what you need to perk the Asian horror genre up 7/10