It’s always a pleasure to discover a horror film that’s well plotted, scary and lives up to its fabulously gruesome poster art. For a film with such an innocuous title (and the perhaps understandably underused setting of the cut-throat world of duetting lady cellists), CELLO is a very fine example indeed of the ghostly revenge Korean Horror subgenre.
Cello teacher Hong Mi-ju (Sung Hyun-ah) has a few problems. She’s curiously unwilling to take up a job promotion and it’s possible she’s being persecuted by a student whose exam paper she recently failed. Someone is sending her text messages that ask “Are you happy? You should be,” while at the same time dead maggotty-ridden birds are turning up in her locker at the school where she works.Things begin to take a turn for the weird at her house, where the new housekeeper employed by her husband turns out to be mute from swallowing acid - the result of a suicide attempt after she was the sole survivor of a vehicle accident. The family dog turns up dead and then her sister-in-law has a breakdown and hangs herself after her fiance apparently breaks up with her. Then things get really strange.
Her husband discovers that in Hong Mi-ju’s student yearbook, the face has been cut out from one of the photographs, who turns out to be her old cellist partner. Apparently the girl was jealous of her getting all the best parts to play and drove them both off the road one night, with Hong Mi-ju being the sole survivor.
That’s not the true backstory at all, of course, but we get to find out what actually happened eventually in an extremely satisfying denoument that saves its ultimate horrors for last. That, plus the systematic destruction of everything Hong Mi-ju holds dear, forms the basis of the story, but even when she’s surrounded by corpses the worst is still in store in a nice twist ending that I didn’t see coming.
CELLO is definitely one of the better K-Horrors I’ve seen, managing to combine a sense of rubber reality and weird flashback sequences (or are they?) with a plotline that’s actually completely logical and an ending that’s really quite haunting. I’m a sucker for any film where there’s a lot of classical music and plenty of blood anyway, but if you’ve yet to enter the world of the Korean horror film this is an excellent place to start.