Written and Directed by: #JarandHerdal
Let’s face it, 2020 just hasn’t been our year. From Australian wildfires to political unrest—not to mention the global pandemic which is quickly approaching its one-year mark—things just haven’t been looking up. However, as the latest Netflix original film Cadaver shows us, it could always be a whole lot worse.
Set in a post-nuclear-fallout world, Jarand Herdal’s horror-thriller follows a family of three as they attempt to survive in the battered remains of a small Norwegian town. While the townsfolk around them have resorted to savagery and theft, this family still clings to the hope that charity and kindness will rescue them from their hardships.
This charity comes in the form of an invitation to attend a night of theatre at the local—and once luxurious—hotel: a grand, looming building, reminiscent of the “Overlook Hotel” in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning. Not only does this invitation present a moment’s release from this family’s cruel reality, it also offers the chance at a hot meal, something which the trio—despite their justified suspicion—simply cannot pass up.
However, upon their arrival at the hotel, and speedy quaffing of any food on offer, it soon becomes clear to all those gathered that they aren’t so much audience members, but key players in the theatrics to follow. Theatrics which blur the line between performance and reality, as our spectators soon find themselves cast in the role of the hunted.
Overall, Cadaver is a sleek, well executed—albeit largely predictable—addition to the Netflix horror canon, and what it may lack in narrative surprise, it more than makes up for in style. The cataclysmic world of the film is beautifully realized, with effective contrast between the fallout slums of the town, and the decadent halls of the hotel. Overhead drone shots paint the town as a sort-of Scandinavian I am Legend, with collapsing debris signifying what was once an attractive city-skyline. On the other hand, these vast, open and largely abandoned buildings are sharply contrasted by the velvet-lined halls of the ominous hotel, with crimson curtains running like arteries along its stone foundations.
This use of crimson is constantly employed throughout the short 90-minute run-time to convey a sinister significance to objects and surroundings in the hotel. Flashes of red become more and more frequent, until eventually whole environments appear bathed in scarlet. This, paired with the cold color-palate used for nearly everything in the film that isn’t blood-red, lends frightening weight to these splashes of pigment.
Herdal’s direction is incredibly strong, with his expert use of cold-color palate, inventive cinematography and partial dystopian setting giving clear aesthetic to the world of Cadaver. In many ways, this Netflix original feels similar to another one of their science-fiction foreign language productions: the German language series Dark. This similar style, paired with subtle, but effective filmmaking flare—from a gently spinning camera to a heart-pounding rack-focus—give this film more depth than your average horror-flick.
The performances in the film reflect this heightened artistic style, with both grounded and truthful portrayals of the family’s two parents Jacob (Thomas Gullestad) and Leonora (Gitte Witt), and operatically sinister performances from the workers at the hotel. However, all of the stellar execution from the majority of the cast nevertheless pales in comparison to the sweeping, varied, powerhouse performance from Thorbjørn Harr (Vikings, Togo) in the role of Mathias, the hotel manager and director of the evening’s theatrics. Audiences will find themselves drawn to this towering, classical performance, maybe even questioning the ethics of the man’s actions come the film’s somber finale.
These strong performances are backed-up by largely believable character choices and smart writing, something which is not normally present in most horror movies. There is no “I’ll go this way down the abandoned, bloodstained hallway, you go that way”, no forced splitting up of characters or unfortunately-timed sex scenes which lead to untimely death. The characters in Cadaver behave in a way that audiences can relate to, maybe even seeing how they themselves would react in a similar situation. Because of this, the ensuing horror and tragedy hits harder, an inescapable fate instead of a series of stupid decisions that moves the narrative forward.
While Cadaver may have taken an original idea and molded it to fit common, often predictable horror film tropes (see the first Purge movie for the most blatant example of this), it nevertheless delivers on its promise of gothic style, beautifully shot body-horror, and resoundingly powerful performances. All of these things considered, Cadaver is well worth the short watch for its style alone, and perhaps also to remind us that our world could always be worse.