Synopsis: In the starving aftermath of a nuclear disaster, a family of three attends a charitable event at a hotel, which takes a dark turn when people start to disappear.
Stars: Gitte Witt, Thomas Gullestad, Thorbjørn Harr, Maria Grazia Di Meo, Kingsford Siayor
Director: Jarand Herdal
Running Length: 86 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Something that’s been nice about having a huge Netflix library at your fingertips is that not only does it grant you access to a number of domestic titles, it provides an opportunity to see what’s going on in world cinema, almost without you knowing it. So instead of watching those movies you’d forgotten you liked from your childhood you can take a chance on a cop show from Poland or a romantic comedy from China. If you really cannot stand the subtitles, go ahead and turn on the dubbing because as anyone that has fallen asleep at the tail end of a movie and woken up during the credits can attest, most Netflix content is dubbed into a number of different languages.
For October, Netflix again has brought US audiences scary original content from other countries and my interest is always piqued to see what foreign cinema has to say about the genre. Europeans have a much different sensibility toward some areas that Americans feel more reserved about so I always expect the unexpected when approaching something from overseas. You think the family pet won’t die in a movie from Greece? Think again. They wouldn’t possibly let a child perish in the jaws of a beast in that Ukrainian monster mash…or would they? All bets are off and so are the gloves so it’s best to roll up your sleeves, sit back, and leave predictability at the door.
Owning my Nordic roots, I couldn’t help but feel some pull towards watching Cadaver from Norway. This film, written and directed by Jarand Herdal, looked interesting from the brief synopsis Netflix provided and the thumbnail image…and masks in general scare me so it seemed like a safe bet. And it’s a good one too, one of the better offerings to come out of these original films. While it may not pull the wool completely over the eyes of expert viewers trained in these types of puzzle box mysteries, it does an admirable job keeping up its air of trickery for the duration.
In an unnamed city in an undetermined future, a family of three lives off of what they can scrounge from the burnt out wreckage of their town after an apparent nuclear disaster that might have been a purposeful way to cleanse the population. Food is dwindling and they can hear the angry shouts of rioting survivors drawing ever closer with sirens following close behind. Leonora “Leo” (Gitte Witt) is a former stage actress who stares at her image on an advertisement for a production of Macbeth while helping her husband Jacob (Thomas Gullestad) find sustenance to feed their young daughter Alice (Tuva Olivia Remman). Whatever hope they had for salvation dwindles by the day and the cinematography reflects the darkening of their confidence.
Then, a glimmer of some good luck with an invitation for those remaining in the town to come to the glittering hotel on the hill to see a show…with a dinner provided. The majestic hotel is something all of them look at with envy and to be invited in and with free food seems to good to be true. Wanting to give their daughter some kind of happiness, Leo and Jacob clean themselves up and make their way to meet their host, the almost Willy Wonka-like Mathias (Thorbjørn Harr, Bel Canto). After they’ve filled their bellies, Mathias gives more info about what the people can expect…and why they have to wear the featureless golden masks as they roam the tricky halls of the hotel.
That’s a good place to leave off because Cadaver has several tricks up its sleeve, which would be no fun to spoil for you, and Herdal pulls them off rather nicely in a production that looks expertly designed. There’s more to the hotel than meets the eye and I enjoyed getting a glimpse of what Mathias had planned for the evening’s entertainment, even if it maybe came at the expense of a few lives. It’s a mischievous film at times, deliberately leading you astray and then correcting itself by adjusting what we’ve previously seen…so it doesn’t totally play fair. It also leaves several threads pretty scraggly and that nags at me, not that items aren’t resolved because hey, that’s life, but because I feel like they weren’t deliberately left that way, they were forgotten.
Carrying the film is Witt as the young determined mother already reaching the very edge of a breaking point before entering the hotel but challenged again once the night begins and a true nightmare ensues. Her gradual shift from her own personal excitement at the opportunity to get out and, as an actress, see a show, to panic at knowing something is wrong, to frantic quick thinking when she figures out what’s happening is a solid study in a performance being metered out intelligently. Gullestad and Harr are nicely cast as two sides of a gentlemen’s coin in Leo’s life, one is her protector and the other is a tormentor and there are times when we start to question which side is which.
A rather dull resolution is the only negative report I could give but even that didn’t turn my stomach from what was up until then an appetizing and entertaining meal. It’s more suspenseful than scary but does have its ghoulish charms once you get into the meat of what Mathias is up to with his turncoat staff in the hotel. At a brisk 86 minutes, Cadaver has a way with toying with your expectations that I think discerning audiences will appreciate. It’s definitely worth a late-night watch with the lights-out.