Thursday, December 9, 2010

Death Bell

Many people like to call Death Bell a combination of Saw, and Battle Royale. Personally I find that label to be a bit of a stretch. The premise is fairly straight forward; a group of 20 top ranked high school kids are formed into a study group to prepare for the coming college entrance exams. Upon the first day of their study sessions terror strikes as one of the students go missing and end up being broadcasted on the school monitors in a tank filling with water, with an equation written on the outside of the tank. Suddenly a voice comes over the PA system demanding that if they do not solve the posted equation the student will die. This continues as the students start disappearing one by one, and in a particular order.

It’s at this point you can begin to see the similarities to Saw, and why people would relate the two films. However beyond that there really isn’t much to compare. In fact with Death Bell it seems everyone is more concerned with panicking, and blaming each other, and that actually solving the equations and saving their friends isn’t as much of a priority. Then as they keep letting the students die, the panic only increases, which soon becomes a vicious cycle. I hope for the sake of the film makers credit that this was intended to be implied, otherwise it would be a pretty dramatic hit to the story’s merit.

As for Battle Royale, there is really not much to compare to it. Yes it revolves around a group of students dying, but they are not killing each other, they are not wearing explosive collars, and they are not on an island. However they are confined to one place, the school. As all outside connections including internet and cell phones are cut off. The terrorizing voice also warns them that they must not try to escape the school, which is quickly proven to not be a bluff as an attempted escape artist ends up a bloody mess. Where the film sometimes falls short, is when it tries to explain certain things enough to prevent obvious plot holes, and the viewer to ask “why not do this” or “couldn’t they just do that”. For example of one the students is ordered to collect the cell phones from other students before study sessions begin, then of course he gets captured along with all the phones, which suggests this is to keep the phones out of reach. However the teachers still have their phones, which mysteriously don’t work. Perhaps the killer has found a way to block cell phone reception, if so then why go through the trouble of capturing the student’s phones?

For the most part the story being told is pretty interesting, and the length and pace of the film, which clocks in at about 90 minutes, was just enough to keep hold of my attention till the end, which had a fairly rewarding twist that looking back should have been more obvious, and to some may be. But it sure got me. Death Bell is a good watch for fans of the Asian horror genre, and for those who have grown tired of these films, it may end up being a pleasant surprise as it tends to lean far more to the side of suspense then to the typical horror fare we have seen so many times before.

A Film by Yoon Hong-Seung


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