The ‘cadaver’ (or ‘kadaver’ as it would be called in its native Norwegian) that makes the title of Jarand Herdal’s second film is as less of a mystery as the horror that is about to befall the characters in the movie. The set-up feels familiar - a nuclear war has plagued the population, pushing Norway’s people into complete poverty, famine, and isolation. There is the least exposition, with only the menacing and dark atmosphere suggesting the terrifying familial drama that is about to unfold. In any post-apocalyptic drama, the story potential works on the basis of how realistic the bizarre futuristic premise could be if we were all to actually transition into dystopia. In that context, ‘Cadaver’ is only a clever idea. But over the course of the rest of the film, the plot goes completely haywire and the characters become increasingly stupid, making us lose interest.
What is the story about?
A family of three - Leo, Jacob, and Alice - is amongst the survivors of the nuclear disaster. When a local hotel owner Mathias reopens his doors for the people (at a fee of their choice), the possibility of being treated to a sumptuous feast and some ‘dinner theatre’ is enticing in a time of starvation. Jacob is skeptical but Leo wants some entertainment for Alice, and so they make their way to the hotel along with other diners. A royal feast is served, red curtains and Corinthian columns adorn the hallways, macabre paintings and dim lighting make the eerie ambience, and the show begins. “Everything is staged,” says Mathias. The modern performance art is where guests wear gold masks, and actors perform the show off the stage. It is only when the guests start going missing, including Alice, when Leo and Jacob realize that the offer wasn’t as rosy as they thought, and the only way to survive may be to join the performers in their game instead.
‘Cadaver’ has an initial sense of mystery which is palpable. Herdal adds an eerie wonder to his film just by having a unique visual style. When Cadaver begins, we are in a dark and murky version of a modernist reality, one which is almost reminiscent of the Holocaust. As Leo, Jacob, and Alice enter into the hotel that usually hosts a ‘travelling circus,’ we are in another reality - of ornate upholstery and decor, ballrooms and opulence, and secret passages and trapdoors. The premise itself is fascinating - what do these ‘actors’ who stem from the audience that makes the show have in store, we wonder. What significance do the little visual clues hold? Good, but this is also the limit to which the screenplay keeps the intrigue intact.
By virtue of its genre, one would think that the offer of food or even the odd behaviour of the people around (especially Mathias) should spell ‘red flag’ for any sensible adult. Some of the film’s biggest plot-twists are guessable right at the beginning. Instead, neither adults are difficult to persuade to watch-along for a very long time into the show… much after some truly horrific incidents have rendered the rest of the people missing. Once Alice goes missing as well, Leo and Jacob make a series of dumb choices to unnecessary carry this implausible setup forward. Finally, somewhere at the half-mark of the film, the background of the show’s director (and hence, his dark ulterior motive) comes to the fore in a non-subtle way. But Leo plods on putting herself and Jacob at risk, neither deciphering Alice’s obvious whereabouts. When Leo finally confronts Mathias, the crescendo and her invocation of ‘Macbeth’ suggests that an explosive climax is underway, but the film just… ends randomly, with no explanation of why this theatrical tale was built up to this extent, and why so many people were willing to blindly do Mathias’ bidding.
Amongst all the actors, only Thorbjørn Har’s performance as the deranged philanthropist stands out. Neither does Gitte Witt as Leonara nor Thomas Gullestad as Jacob has the horror register nor the anxious parent part down. The rest of the cast is forgettable.
Music & Other Departments
The creepy ambient score and the look and tone of the film are really great, which is sad because the script needed so much more work.
‘Cadaver’ has a good initial setup which is aided by the creation of a genuinely terrifying atmosphere. The cinematography and lighting help in keeping it interesting in the beginning.
It’s like the writers forgot that the film needs a second act because not much of what happens around the hotel after the play begins makes much sense. I saw the film in its original audio with English subtitles, and some of it sounds derivative of the genre. There is an obvious allusion to the fact that Leo suffers from some sort of post-trauma mental illness which manifests as sporadic hallucinations. This has no role to play in the overall story and the fact that it disappears randomly is insensitive.
Did I enjoy it?
No. It was a very predictable and sluggish movie for me.
Do I recommend it?
No. The horror genre has better gems to pick from.