Friday, December 25, 2015

Film Review: The Cat (2011)

The Cat (Review)
Byun Seung-wook/Park Min-Young/2011
Where To Watch:
Netflix Instant
Amazon Prime

"...story doesn't offer anything new and the characters are underdeveloped, but the horror and atmosphere are great."

So-yeon (Park Min-Young) begins seeing a cat-eyed apparition after she adopts a cat linked to an inexplicable death...

The Cat is a rather simple ghost story. The film follows So-yeon, a groomer at a small pet shop. After a woman picks up her cat from said shop, she is found dead in an elevator. After stumbling upon the crime scene, So-yeon is asked to care for the cat while the investigation proceeds. So-yeon soon finds herself haunted by an apparition with cat-like eyes. When the deaths begin to pile up, So-yeon links the mysterious deaths to cats. So, So-yeon and Jun-seok (Kim Dong-wook), a police officer she likes, begin delving into the mystery. It all leads to a predictable but sorrowful ending. It works by tugging at your emotions, but it does feel like it's dropped on your lap from nowhere — it just blatantly explains everything to you.

The Cat isn't a bad film, not at all, but it is disappointing. If you've watched any Asian horror films in the past decade, you've likely seen this film before — but this one is about cats. Aside from the generic formula, the film is also hindered by some narrative flaws, including underdeveloped characters and bizarre exposition. The final revelation is sparked from a simple interaction. "Here's what happened. Accept it." It didn't have much buildup. As for the underdeveloped characters, take So-yeon, the main character, as an example. She has some interesting characteristics, including claustrophobia and an estranged mentally-ill father, but the film hardly taps into that character. It only does so when it is convenient.

These flaws are certainly significant. However, I did find myself enjoying The Cat. Perhaps it was the long period since I watched my last Korean or Japanese horror film, but I was entertained. I could easily point out the cliches and the crutches it used to move forward, but I was more engaged with the mystery and horror than anything — even when I knew exactly where it was headed. The Cat is mostly reliant on jump-scares. Fortunately, it also takes its time to craft some moderate suspense and an eerie ambiance. It won't give you nightmares, but it will certainly jolt you thanks to some of the creative jump-scares. And, although some visuals were unintentionally funny, there were some spooky scenes here. The story wasn't half-bad, either.

The cast is led by Park Min-young, who is predominantly a television actress. (As far as I can tell, this is her only feature film role.) Fortunately, Min-young does well as the lead. She heavily relies on the same "I'm so scared" facial expression, which sticks out like a sore thumb, but it works for the most part. The supporting cast is also decent. The film is shot exceptionally well, especially by horror standards. The cinematography and camerawork are great. You also have a standard horror soundtrack — nothing memorable, really. The film is written by Jang Yun-mi and directed by Byun Seung-wook. The writing is fairly derivative, sticking very closely to the same old formula. Fortunately, the direction keeps this film on its feet, at least in terms of horror and presentation. It's not original by any means, but it is entertaining — I suppose playing it safe can often work out in the end.

Overall, The Cat is a good horror film. The story doesn't offer anything new and the characters are underdeveloped, but the horror and atmosphere are great. The film is mostly reliant on jump-scares.
Fortunately, many of these jump-scares work thanks to the moderate suspense and ominous atmosphere. It won't be as scary or exciting a second or third time due to the nature of the scares, but it is certainly entertaining during the first. With that said, I can easily recommend a rental, especially if you're a fan of Korean horror films.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

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