For as far back as I can remember I have loved horror movies. Growing up in the 80s I can remember begging my mother to let me see the slasher films of Freddie Kreuger, Jason, and Michael Myers. Mostly she said no, but I still managed to catch them on late-night cable TV. Later the voyeuristic, sick pleasures of real death films like Faces of Death became something of an underground scene at my school. In the decades since that time, I have continued in my love for horror and gore.
The slasher film seemed to go out of style sometime in the early 90s but came back in vogue a few years later with Scream and its winking, ironic sensibilities. Now we’ve got Asian horror and its significant lack of naked breasts, but with plenty of extreme violence. This brings us to Cinderella.
I’m not exactly sure why this film is called Cinderella as there is nary a Prince Charming, a mouse, nor a pumpkin carriage to be found, but there is enough dark moodiness to have Cinderella and her stepsisters screaming for mercy.
The story revolves around Hyun-soo and her mother, Yoon-hee, a plastic surgeon. Dear old Dr. Mom performs facelifts for all of Hyun-soo’s friends who are obsessed with ul-jjang (the ideal beauty), but before long things start going horribly wrong. The face-lifted friends begin having weird visions of their faces being clawed off, which leads them to do some pretty nasty stuff to themselves.
Hyun-soo also begins having visions that her face is a horrible wreck, and she hears voices claiming her own face is someone else’s.
The film is loaded with mood. Shadows abound, and unknown dark faces linger just out of focus in the background. Voices whisper strange and haunting things throughout. As an audience, we’re never quite sure what is going on at any time, but we can be pretty sure it’s eerie.
There are a few Asian horror movie clichés, and to be sure you see more than a few long black-haired girls creeping along. In the end, it feels more like a Romantic era melodrama than a horror film, but for what it lacks in originality and gore it makes up for in mood and social commentary.
Yeah, that’s right, I said social commentary. The film has a great deal to say about our perception of beauty and the extremes we will go through to achieve them. Hyun-soo and her friends, who have all undergone some form of cosmetic surgery, are young students. They haven’t really formed concrete personalities but are more than willing to change their appearance surgically to gain some warped sense of beauty.
In one chilling scene two girls begin slicing their faces open with sculpting knives all the while whispering “I’ll make you pretty.” This mantra is repeated throughout the film. All anyone seems to care about is his or her physical beauty, and they are willing to do just about anything to achieve it. Take a quick look at our own magazines and television commercials it’s not hard to see how such a warped perception could easily be believed.
Unfortunately in its attempts to be a horror film, a melodrama, and social commentary, the film falls a little short in all categories. It is stretched just a little too thin to be completely satisfying as any of them, yet it provides enough of each to make it well worth watching.