Saturday, October 15, 2011

In short: The Cat (2011)

Not to be confused with all those other films called The Cat.

So-yeon (Park Min-yeong, who is certainly the most sympathetic element of this movie) works in a pet shop with an emphasis on pet grooming (yes, let's dye the poor kitten's face pink!). She's a bit lonely, and a traumatic experience in her childhood (that might have something to do with her estranged father she isn't ever visiting in his home for the elderly) has left her with a severe case of claustrophobia.

When one of the shop's customers dies a strange and unnatural death, a local cop So-yeon has a crush on asks her to take care of the woman's cat for a time. Our heroine obviously agrees.

As soon as So-yeon has taken the animal - called Silky - in, she is confronted with regular appearances by the ghost of a bob-haired little girl, and is stared at by a lot of cats. Apart from being somewhat disturbing and causing So-yeon nightmares, the ghost doesn't harm the woman any. People around her are not so lucky, though, especially those with a tendency to not be very nice to cats. Soon enough, the ghost kills So-yeon's best - one might even assume only - friend Bo-hee (Sin Da-eun).

So-yeon is quite clear about what happened to her friend. Once she stops freaking out completely, she tries to get rid of the cat, but that might be exactly the wrong thing for her to do, for it makes a certain ghost pretty angry. If So-yeon wants to survive, she'll have to find out who the dead girl is and try to lay her to rest.

Byeon Seung-wook's The Cat is pretty much a South Korean horror movie by numbers, competently enough done but mostly lacking in surprises, depth or actual creepiness. As we all know, the road to mediocrity is plastered with solid scripts that are keeping so close to all the rules of supposed good scriptwriting that anyone who has seen more than half a dozen movies in their lives will be able to predict each and every dramatic beat in them without even having to try.

But it's not only the film's structure that goes from the obvious to the mandatory, the nature of the shocks along the way is just as obvious too. So there is of course a scene in which the ghost catapults itself out from under So-yeon's bed, and another one that finds our heroine inadvertently sharing her bed with the ghost, and so on, scenes that feel like they have been in every other Asian horror film made in the last fifteen years. I'm sure a more enthusiastic or convicted director than Byeon could still have used these old hats to good effect, but in The Cat's case, conviction and enthusiasm seem to have been replaced by bland professionalism.

Apart from being slick but just not being very exciting, the film also suffers from the strange decision to not use any opportunity to really suck So-yeon psychologically into what is happening around her, or to explore the parallels between her and the ghost it hints at at more than the most perfunctory level. There are clear opportunities to create thematic resonance the film infuriatingly just isn't taking, probably because it prefers to be one of those films where the supernatural's job is to teach the main character a valuable lesson about life without actually daring to touch the things that might hurt or disturb an audience; and no, just having a dead kid and a father that didn't care about her isn't enough if a film isn't exploring their situation deeper.

All in all, The Cat is another proof for my theory that competent mediocrity is much less interesting than incompetence or ambition.


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