“Cinderella” (2006) – A.J. Hakari

Reality shows like “The Swan” and “I Want a Famous Face,” which center heavily around cosmetic surgery, are frightening enough on their own, without the world of cinema on hand to help. But the Korean chiller Cinderella is here to give the idea of changing one’s appearance out of sheer vanity a supernatural spin all its own. Admittedly, it’s a terrific premise ripe with oodles of potential to scare the bejeebers out of viewers while making a statement about society’s fascination with nipping and tucking. But you couldn’t tell that from actually seeing Cinderella, whose message is buried under frame upon frame of shoddy directing, ineffective scares, and one of the most dunderheaded scripts this side of an Uwe Boll production.


Hyun-su (Shin Se-kyung) is a typical high schooler who lives alone with her mother (Do Ji-won), a skilled plastic surgeon. Her mother’s occupation has definitely attracted the attention of her vain friends, all of whom go under the knife for a little facial sprucing-up. But tragedy strikes Hyun-su’s circle of friends when one of her schoolmates who had recently undergone surgery commits suicide by cutting up her face to shreds. Her surviving pals report hearing creepy whispers wherever they go, leading Hyun-su to believe that a supernatural force might be at work. As it turns out, she may be right after all, as a trip into her mother’s dark past turns up a horrifying secret that’s been kept from her for her entire life, leading her to believe that the skeletons in her mom’s closer have returned to settle a terrible score.


I apologize if the above summary is a bit on the skimpy side, but that’s what happens when a movie leaves you with jack-all in terms of plotting. Much like the recent Apartment 1303, the sort of “investigation” that lies at the heart of Cinderella doesn’t so much involve the actual uncovering of clues as it does big twists being flat-out explained to the heroine. But the trouble with Cinderella isn’t that the lead is a poor excuse for a detective; it’s that the viewers are the ones being spoon-fed the story’s most important information, with about two-thirds of the film dedicated to spelling the entire plot out for us instead of letting us tackle the situation on our own. Left to its own devices, the film is a gigantic mess, completely confused about itself and what it wants to be.


On the one hand, it’s a cautionary drama about family and to what extent one should pay for the price of beauty. Had it stayed on this track, Cinderella might have turned out to be a relevant and intriguing tale, but simultaneously, director Bong Man-dae tries to shove in as many traditional Asian horror elements as possible, none of which are well-established or executed well enough to leave a lasting impression. It leaves the story feeling even more cluttered and muddled than before, and as the story progresses, both we and even the filmmakers lose more and more interest in the proceedings. The lead characters are difficult to care about as a result, and the supporting characters are dispensable to an almost shocking degree. Shin Se-kyung’s performance as Hyun-su isn’t bad by any means, but there’s a definite lack of interest in her fate and that of those around her when the script has the characters essentially waiting for the ending credits bus to arrive.


Simply put, as a combination horror/drama, Cinderella is neither scary nor thematically alluring. It whizzes away whatever potential it has, thanks to a horrible sense of pacing and horrible sense of direction, in the end turning out to be pretty…well, horrible.


Rating: ★☆☆☆


-A.J. Hakari

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