Certain visual motifs have always been prevalent in Asian horror films. It was arguably Hideo Nakata’s incredible Ring (1998) that introduced the majority of ‘Western’ audiences to such themes, most notably the ‘gwishin’ or girl spirit with long black hair and wearing a white nightdress. Additionally, water (particularly in Japan), the deconstruction of family ethics, the motif of the circle, technological advancements, and the supernatural are all features that continually recur. As the title suggests, The Cat (고양이: 죽음을 보는 두 개의 눈) uses felines as the conduits of horror in conjunction with other common motifs, and while entertaining, offers little in the way of originality or suspense.
So-yeon (Park Min-yeong (박민영) works at a pet store grooming animals, supervised by the sinister flamboyant manager (Lee Han-wi (이한위). So-yeon suffers from claustrophobia due to an undisclosed childhood accident, visiting a psychiatrist and taking anxiety medicine, and as such has an acute fear of elevators and closed doors. After grooming cat ‘Silky’, the owner mysteriously dies forcing police officer Joon-seok (Kim Dong-wuk, 김동욱) to ask So-yeon to take care of the feline. But on taking Silky home, it becomes clear that something else has followed them – the apparition of a young girl called Hee-jin (Kim Ye-ron, 김예론) with cat-like eyes.
The trend to incorporate ‘western’ style scare tactics through rapid editing, rather than elongated atmospheric scenes, features heavily in The Cat. This is a shame, as the effects of such a style wear off as quickly as they are introduced and do little to perpetuate suspense and terror throughout the film. However director Byeon Seung-wook (변승욱) competently creates these scenes of horror, employing filters that seemingly drain colour from the mise-en-scene in anticipation of an upcoming shock. Unfortunately, the impact of the shocks are fleeting, and the lack of originality is painfully obvious. This is heightened due to the unwise decision of including scenes reminiscent of other superior horror classics, which detracts from the overall enjoyment. Attempts are made to make The Cat into more of a psychological horror due to So-yeon’s psychosis, with ghost Hee-jin as a mirror/conduit for her childhood trauma. Hee-jin – who bares more than a passing resemblance to So-yeon in her youth – stalks So-yeon yet does not harm her; only those who are unkind to cats feel her wrath. Yet the victims are also people that So-yeon dislikes or bears a grudge towards, and in this capacity Hee-jin becomes a supernatural tool implementing So-yeon’s subconscious will. Further supporting this argument is the fact that all the murders are conducted in confined spaces, an area that petrifies So-yeon yet is the source of her neurological condition. While there is certainly a mystery to be solved, the identity of the killer is ambiguous.
Park Min-yeong gives a solid performance as pet-groomer So-yeon, yet the role mostly requires her to look scared and doesn’t allow for a more penetrative exploration of her psychological condition or the foundation thereof. As such, the evolution of So-yeon as a protagonist is rather flat. Police officer and potential love interest Joon-seok is pitifully underdeveloped and adds little to the narrative, and as such Kim Dong-wuk’s performance is muted. Perhaps the most entertaining protagonist is the camp pet store owner, played by Lee Han-wi (이한위), who seems to relish portraying the flamboyantly vicious entrepreneur. The standard of acting is generally mediocre as director Byeon Seung-wook is more concerned with quickly moving from one horror set piece to the next, and the lack of character development clearly limits the performances provided.
While competently made, The Cat does not belong with premier examples of the genre. Attempts have clearly been made to construct depth through the inclusion of a leading protagonist with neurosis, yet the lack of development and the consistent references to other, more superior, horror films detracts from the overall experience. That’s not to say that The Cat isn’t enjoyable – far from it. While the unease of horror is unlikely to linger after the credits, the fast-paced quick thrills make the film an entertaining experience.