Director: Jarand Herdal
Writer: Jarand Herdal
Starring: Gitte Witt, Thomas Gullestad, Thorbjørn Harr
Genre: Horror / Thriller
In the desolate aftermath of a nuclear disaster, a family of three attend a hotel to see what they believe to be a stage play that will allow them to provide some escapism from the real world. However, when proceedings take a dark turn and people start to disappear, they discover that they are involved in a sinister and deadly game.
Oh, what to do in a post-apocalyptic world that is covered in darkness and everyone is starving to death? Well, one could always go and see a play in a huge, posh hotel to forget about it for a couple of hours! Netflix’s first foray into the slightly niche genre of Norwegian psychological horror does provide with an interesting and original concept. Though it is certainly best to just initially go with it and not ask some quite obvious questions regarding its premise, once we find ourselves watching our main characters observing the ‘play’ Cadaver becomes a very unique and interesting, if highly contrived film that seems to relish from focussing on the darker aspects of human nature without ever fully examining them or explaining them. It does often feel messed up and dark for the sake of it, and then has a character provide some very clunky, lazy and basic exposition to justify it (sometimes by using newspapers with expositional headlines that are conveniently and inexplicably left lying around), with the desperation of a post-apocalyptic world being used as an appropriate setting for it to (sort of) examine its darker themes.
In terms of atmosphere, writer-director Jarand Herdal creates a very evocative atmosphere, whether this be the initial external shots of the ravaged city that the main characters live or the internal shots of the lavish hotel. This is also aided by Jonathan Sigsworth’s moody score and Jallo Faber’s cinematography that manages to capture the bleakness of the external world, but also the creepiness of the bright primary colours of hotel’s extravagant and labyrinthine interior. As our main characters (and also we the audience) make increasingly shocking and dark discoveries about the basis of this so-called ‘play’ some elements are of course predictable and some aspects of the plot rely highly on contrivance, but thanks to the originality of the plot and the effectiveness of how Cadaver is made it is certainly never anything less than compelling.
Films set in post-apocalyptic settings often do (for obvious reasons) focus on the very primary and basic aspects of human nature, and what this can drive us to do and become. In these covid times these themes can certainly provide extra prevalence and poignancy (should you want them to), and of course what extreme acts humans will resort to in order to survive has always been a fascinating subject. While Cadaver certainly brings a refreshing degree of originality to a very oversubscribed genre and narrative concept, its plot is littered with way too many contrivances for it to be anything more than pure entertainment. Its originality has enough to make sure it remains entertaining and highly watchable, while its visuals make it effectively atmospheric, but it just ultimately lacks the substance to do anything more than this with what is an admittedly potentially interesting premise. However, there are so many films released from various parts of the world, and hopefully Netflix will continue to release these films and allow them to have the budgets they need to develop their ideas fully.
An admittedly original take on the post-apocalyptic thriller / horror genre; The genuinely interesting ideas and original concepts in Cadaver makes sure that it is a very watchable and entertaining film, but a reliance on contrivance and cliché do truly let it down and prevent it from being the much better film that it could have been. However, there will not be a film like it this year, and for that reason alone it is worth a watch.
At time of writing Cadaver is available to stream on Netflix