Final Exams Can Be A Killer: Death Bell

Final Exams Can Be A Killer: Death Bell

Static Mass Rating: 2/5
Terracotta Distribution

Release date: October 10th, 2011
Certificate (UK): 18
Running time: 88 minutes

Year of production: 2008

Country of origin: South Korea
Original language: Korean with English subtitles

Director: Chang
Writers: Chang, Kim Eun-kyeong

Cast: Lee Beom-soo Yoon Jeong-hee Nam Gyu-ri

When Alfred Hitchcock made Vertigo in 1958, his legacy wasn’t just an unforgettable movie classic; he also left a truly intriguing cinematic concept behind: “the elaborate crime”.

The elaborate crime that would never work in real life due to its too many variables, but its lack of realism is precisely what allows filmmakers to give us an insight into the human mind with its desires, sins and imperfections.

Death Bell

This concept has inspired and was transformed by directors ever since. A crime can hardly be more elaborate than it is in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003), for instance. At its core is based on Brian De Palma’s Obsession (1976); a movie where De Palma re-imagined Hitchcock’s plot and made it more sinister. This fascinating narrative device always has more to reveal about human nature when it’s done well.

The Korean horror film, Death Bell by Yoon Hong-Seung (aka Chang), in his directorial debut, merges the Hitchcock inspired concept of an elaborate crime with Asian horror movie conventions and a few ideas from the Saw movies. The setting is a Korean high-school at the time of final exams – a very stressful period for students in Korea.

After the exams, there’s additional work to be done by the best students, which is when trouble begins. The school is locked down with no way to communicate with the outside world and a mysterious killer sets out to give a different kind of exam to the students: every time they get an answer wrong one of them is killed. While trying to solve these riddles, a few students and their teachers also try to find out who is behind the mystery.

Death Bell

I thought the premise for the film was pretty good. Unfortunately I was soon put off by the so many ways this movie made no sense. When it comes to films using similar Hitchcock inspired concepts, the lack of realism is in the plot’s elaborate nature while maintaining basic logical elements with a special focus on the characters. In Death Bell, there are so many logical gaps that it doesn’t take long for the movie to fall apart beyond repair.

We can’t turn to the characters because they’re either written with little comprehension or emotional depth. The protagonist, Kang I-na (Nam Gyu-ri), is supposedly one of the top students in this elite group while she is much more like a superficial blow-up doll that hasn’t much to contribute to the film other than being pretty. Her wannabe boyfriend, Kang Hyeon (Kim Bum), was meant to be a rebel type character but he is also really plain and delivers some bad acting that made me wince.

Death Bell

I kept asking questions while watching Death Bell and becoming increasingly frustrated. How can they be completely isolated in such a public place for such a long time without anybody starting to investigate the school from outside?

What’s the point in these elaborate torture-killings when the characters don’t always seem to be aware of what’s happening to the victims? Why do the characters decide to go on their separate ways again and again only to be kidnapped and killed? How come there is a time gap between the final scene and the events taking place in the school without the police simply finding out what later becomes the twist ending for the film?


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I think it figures quite clearly from my questions that the fundamental problem with Death Bell is a very badly written script. I would try my hardest to ignore the logical fallacies if the characters weren’t so shallow, but not one of them stands out for me to be interested.

There are a few scares and gore of course but Death Bell didn’t manage hold my attention and by the time it got to the twist ending I couldn’t care who was behind the mystery.

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