With a surplus of frightening flicks timed for Halloween releases every year, modern horror filmmakers face a tough task. How do you create something both unique and scary, or take a story that’s been seen before and breathe new life (and a few unexpected jumps) into it?
Netflix’s Norwegian-language offering Cadaver (directed by Jarand Herdal) tries to take the former path. A starving family are struggling to survive in Norway after a nuclear disaster, the air and squalid buildings around them painted in oppressive, claustrophobic greys. Temporary salvation could be just around the corner, though, when a travelling dinner theatre show arrives in town, and matriarch Leonora (Gitte Witt) snags three pay-what-you-can tickets for her clan.
Dressed in their smartest outfits, she, husband Jacob (Thomas Gullestad) and young daughter Alice (Tuva O. Remman) head to a nearby hotel, expecting a gourmet meal and some immersive theatre. Instead of something akin to New York theatre staple Sleep No More, though, they’re faced with secret trapdoors, lurching bald man in white overalls, and a series of labyrinthine tunnels beneath their feet, waiting to catch them and carry them to the kitchens where a meal will be made, but they won’t be around to enjoy it.
Although Cadaver has its fair share of gory moments – like when you witness what’s really going on behind-the-scenes – it’s devoid of any proper scares. Even the psychological aspects of the story have little impact, the plot lines too transparent and obvious to cause any real terror. In fact, one of the only things about the film that isn’t predictable is the fate of Alice, who disappears early on in the night, setting into motion Leonora and Jacob’s descent into the underbelly of the event.
Visually, the movie is stunning. The post-apocalyptic rubble at its beginning feels dark and desolate, and makes you itch for the family to get some relief. The hotel’s rooms and corridors, full of opulent reds and golds, is the polar opposite, but still with enough shadows to suggest something still isn’t quite right.
The acting, too, is without fault, Witt perfectly portraying the desperation and fear of a mother in search of her child and Thorbjørn Harr playing host and evil mastermind Mathias with a deceptive charisma that soon turns into goosebump-inducing villainy. It’s unfortunate, then, that the script fails to match up and lets Cadaver down in its integral moments. If you’re looking for something to make your Halloween a truly terrifying affair, it’s best to give this film a miss.
- Director: Jarand Herdal
- Starring: Gitte Witt, Thomas Gullestad, Thorbjørn Harr
- Release date: October 22 (Netflix)