Originally published on So So Gay on 8 January 2014.
For some, our feline friends are unnerving enough without having to star in their very own horror film. Focusing on the distressing developments that befall pet groomer So-yeon (Park Min-young) after she comes into contact with a Persian cat called Silky, The Cat is one of the latest horror releases to come out of South Korea. Directed by Byun Seung-wook, the film reveals the world of this young woman who is suddenly plagued by death and the sinister apparition of a girl with a bob cut.
As a very general rule of thumb, horror films produced by East Asia are often unnerving, because they seem to have a knack for doing creepy so damn well – just watch (the original versions of) The Eye, The Ring or The Grudge. However, while The Cat opens promisingly enough, depicting So-yeon’s first experience with the spectre of the little girl, with each subsequent appearance the scares generally fall flatter and feel too drawn out. Rather than successfully build the tension, which is obviously the intention, it instead feels a bit over-milked.
The film’s musical score is a plus point, though in some of the pivotal moments where it helps build up to a scare, it is let down by the screen being too dark, even for a horror movie. A scare for the viewer comes as much from what they think they can see rather than what is shown, but here, instead of feeling dread from implied danger you are frequently left with a sense of confusion, struggling to find a point of interest to latch on to with your eyes.
The film does have one notable strength, however: its star, Park Min-young. An extremely likeable and competent actress, even if she does seem to favour hyperventilating in the face of a fright rather than let out a blood-curdling scream – though this may have been a directorial decision rather than her own. In general, the acting is a slightly mixed bag. Competent enough in general – Shin Da-eun as So-yoen’s feckless best friend, Bo-hee, is particularly good – there are some weaker contributions that pile on a general feeling of ‘could have been so much better’; most of the members of the police force, for example.
Perhaps the biggest gripe about The Cat is its resolution. Without giving too much away, rather than having a logical reason for this unhinged spirit of a young girl attacking an assortment of people – sometimes because they were mean to Silky, sometimes because they were cruel to the girl – we instead veer into melodramatic territory. While this reveal is certainly moving and tragic, and again well played by Min-young, it doesn’t feel appropriate for a so-called horror movie.
In fact, the weakest thing about The Cat is certainly the script. Taken as a whole, the plot is rather incoherent – there’s a sub-plot about So-yeon suffering from claustrophobia that doesn’t have any real bearing on the story aside from garnering sympathy from the viewer – and with the final pay-off being an emotional whimper rather than a satisfying bang, the muted scares feel even more disappointing. Even the good bits of this film feel familiar and as if they’ve been done so much better before.
By no means awful, The Cat is definitely a watchable, if slightly underwhelming effort that owes a lot to its lead actress for holding the viewer’s interest.
The Cat is out now on DVD and can be purchased from Amazon. Featured image courtesy Matchbox Films