DEATH BELL (2008) Reviews and overview

 

Death Bell is a 2008 South Korean horror film directed by Chang [Yoon Hong-seung] who also co-wrote the screenplay.

The Mirovision production stars Lee Beom-soo in his first horror film role and K-pop singer Nam Gyu-ri in her acting debut. Set in a Korean high school, the film’s native title refers to gosa, the important midterm exams that all students are required to sit.

The notable classical soundtrack score was composed by Jun-seong Kim.

A sequel, Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp, followed in 2010.

Plot:

An elite group of twenty high school students—including rebellious heroine Kang Yi-na, her timid best friend Yoon Myong-hyo, and her suitor Kang Hyeon—are taking a special class for their college entrance exam.

After Kang Yi-na is nearly strangled and another student throttled in the restroom, the classroom TV screen switches to an image of top-ranking student Hye-yeong trapped inside a fish tank that is slowly filling with water. A disembodied voice announces that her life depends on the exam questions he will set for them and that a student will die for every question the class gets wrong.

Trapped with the students are head teacher Hwang Chan-wook and English teacher Choi So-yeong. Yi-na realizes that the students are being killed in order of their rank in the class, and she is ranked fifth. Someone is slowly killing the students, one by one…

Reviews [click links to read more]:

” …the film boasts some impressively claustrophobic camerawork and cleverly devised predicaments that all help to ramp up the tension […] The script, co-written by director Chang, is clichéd to say the least, with the standard genre conventions forcing you to let out a couple of groans at various intervals. It also lacks any kind of distinctive character definition…” Far East Films

“While Death Bell is unlikely to cause viewers to alter their list of the best ever South Korean horror films, its old-school feel combined with elements from more recent visceral horror fare, alongside numerous references to the incredible pressures that Korea’s school system can place on pupils, parents and teachers alike, ensure that it is nonetheless a welcome addition to the horror genre.” Hangul Celluloid

” …this would have been a great one with better pacing and no ghost imagery. It manages to wrap up the explanation for what’s happening and why pretty nicely – it’s believable and internally consistent without being obvious from the word go –  and there are some good set pieces amid the desultory murk.” A Lifetime in Dark Rooms

“It’s a strange little movie and not entirely without merit. After a sluggish first act, it really grows legs and seems to sprint to a blistering finale… Only, it doesn’t. Bafflingly, it goes out on a twist ending that makes little to no sense and reveals the killer to be laughably unbelievable. Still, something new is attempted here and that, if nothing else, is worth the watch.” Love Horror

“The film is a potent cocktail of memorable horror staples and is edited in a breathless, visceral, and exuberant style which does it many favors. It may be fair to say that the brief and flighty nature of the film allows it to succeed in glossing over a few mistakes or low points that occur here and there although the strong production values and good performances…” Modern Korean Cinema

“It has all the silliness of its American counterparts but an added fineness of quality and genuine suspenseful tension that will draw you into its tale of revenge while enjoying the sadistic puzzles and the social commentary. And the final end credits? So surreal and understated, they’ll play sleight of hand with your expectations…” Mookychick

” …it is never quite plausible enough to convince, or indeed to engage. Far more interesting is the underlying motive for these outrages upon the student body – for it is a bloody revenge perpetrated against the iniquities and inequalities not just of Korea’s competitive school exams, but also more broadly of the nation’s hierarchical ‘class’ system…” Projected Figures

“The effects are very cool and there are more than enough decent kills for me to get my kicks. The plot does become unnecessarily complicated in the final act, but the reveal in any horror film always seems determined to tie up loose ends that often don’t matter.  That small complaint aside, I can recommend this film…” Screen Anarchy

“Yoon’s direction covers the occasional plot missteps well, the film moves at a brisk pace and ratchets up the tension in many a scene, playing some dark comedy when need be (watch for the final scene over the end credits). The film does run a little longer than it needs to, but Yoon’s visuals are creepy enough.” Tatum Archive Blog

“While the end made me go “oh yeah! Awesome!” Death Bell is not without its flaws: characters have to behave quite stupidly in order to be abducted, so some of the cut and dried tropes of slasherdom are played too contrivedly but the Korean cultural backdrop kind of allows this to slide, as it were. It’s way better than both Record and Nightmare.” Vegan Voorhees

“Given that Chang started off in music videos, it’s not surprising how he tends to shoot most of the horror and suspense scenes with way too much kinetic energy. Some of the traps used aren’t too bad, but the camera is jerking around so much, we don’t get much of a look at them. And considering they want to emulate the Saw films, what’s on display here is pretty tame.” The Video Graveyard

Filming Locations:

Seoul, South Korea

Technical details:

88 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1

Original title:

고死: 피의 중간고사 aka Gosa: Piui Junggangosa

Trailer: