There’s no shortage of South Korean high school frightfests, but “Death Bell” has a neat concept that almost goes the distance. Slightly similar to the recent Spanish suspenser “Fermat’s Room,” with trapped victims having to solve puzzles to rescue their colleagues, this first feature by mono-monikered musicvid director Chang generates enough shocks and gore to keep genre addicts contented on ancillary. Remake potential is also strong.
An elite group of students at Chang-in High, including nightmare-haunted Gang Yi-na (Nam Gyu-ri) and troublesome teen Gang Hyeon (Kim Beom), is taking a special class for the college entrance exam. After Gang Hyeon is almost strangled by one student, and another is throttled in a restroom stall, the classroom TV screen suddenly switches to a horrific image of a top-ranked femme student in a fish tank that’s slowly filling with water.
A disembodied voice announces a student will die for every test question the class gets wrong — and the first will be the girl in the tank. Anyone trying to leave the premises will also die a horrible death.
Trapped along with the teens are head teacher Chang Wook (star Lee Beom-su) and pretty English teach Choi So-yeong (Yun Jeong-heui). But it’s Yi-na who starts to unravel the mystery by realizing students are being killed in order of their rank in the class, from the top. Unfortunately for her, she’s ranked No. 5. After a fairly conventional half-hour setup, the pic keeps the tension high with tight cutting and a no-flab script that ups the student body count in some especially inventive ways. Solution to the whodunit is less convincing than the lead-up, with a finale that doesn’t deliver on expectations. But the journey there is fine, with Lee, better known for comedy, interestingly cast as the students’ tough prof.
Technical credits on DigiBeta version caught were fully pro, even though post-production on the August release had been rushed to meet its festival preem.