Norwegian Cadaver (2020) Offers Up Dinner Theater Paired with Lite Horror
First Wide Release: October 22, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Jarand Herdal
Writer: Jarand Herdal
Runtime: 86 Minutes
Starring: Gitte Titt, Thomas Gullestad, Thorbjørn Harr
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A nuclear apocalypse has left behind a frozen wasteland where survivors scrape by to survive. A young couple, Leonora (Gitte Witt) and Jacob (Thomas Gullestad), and their daughter Alice (Tuva Olivia Remman) are invited to a free dinner theater show put on by the mysterious and generous Mathias (Thorbjørn Harr). Unable to pass up a free meal, they make haste to attend. Once there, the family finds themselves lost and separated in the expansive hotel trying to make sense of the production until they learn of the sinister nature behind their host’s seemingly benign intentions.
Cadaver is a fun, yet flawed, horror mystery that leans into the theatrical and whimsy of the genre.
Within the first fifteen minutes, you can make an educated guess on where Cadaver is going to take you. It’s predictable even when it does throw you a bone for more imaginative or interesting twists that might yield higher payoffs. My main concern with Cadaver’s plot is the convoluted nature of its story that raises more questions than answers. How do the actors operate without full knowledge of their con? Why was the hotel in perfect condition when everything around it was broken and deteriorating? How did Mathias pull of the first few shows? Many things aren’t considered and are brushed aside for a more theatrical and metaphorical show.
The heroes behind Cadaver can be plucked out of any slasher/survival horror film and work just fine. The family is sympathetic but not interesting, with the father figure being shafted for most of the runtime. The villain’s story has been told before and inspires more yawns than frights. Even the supporting characters, who showed promise, are never fleshed out beyond a few fleeting moments onscreen. Most of the film is devoted to Witt’s Leo, who is determined to shelter her daughter from the horrors of the hotel and world and does not mind breaking herself down in the process. Her arc is typical and rote but works fine for the role she needs to play in the film. There could have been so much more here, which is disappointing.
Cadaver operates with imagery and shots far grander in scope and scale than its story. We are treated to grandiose, sweeping shots of the hotel’s interior that are quite stunning. It is quite the contrast between the crumbling city down the mountainside. Operating on strong ideas that don’t necessarily translate to a cohesive plot, Cadaver peppers in some truly powerful and, at times, off-putting imagery. Luxurious grand staircases, brightly lit white rooms, red dresses casually tossed over balconies, are all bold visual cues that Cadaver might want to tell us something far more interesting than it actually does. The use of masks also plays a great role in disorienting the viewer and does a great job of unsettling them in the process.
I mentioned a few paragraphs earlier how thrown off I was at the direction of the film and that is in part due to the clues laid out in the beginning. Cadaver implements some really ominous sound design that distracts the viewer in an almost hypnotically scary way. It's deep and echo-y which simultaneously makes the film feel claustrophobic and the stakes massive. It unnerved me! One issue I did have here is the haphazard inclusion of the hallucination subplot which really gets too messy for its own good, both in story and editing. It is grating in a way that is not ideal for this type of horror film.
Director Jarand Herdal is 24. It’s incredible to think that someone so young already has their bearings. It’s clear he’ll need at least another feature under his belt to get properly seasoned. Cadaver shows that Herdal has a bright future ahead of him. Tightly paced, atmospheric, and boasting a lightly sinister tone, Cadaver is a fun little film that deserves more credit than it will likely get. Sure, there are plenty of flaws, but the intrigue of the first two acts and the chaotic fun of the final act makes it worthy of a watch. The final minute or so captures a nice feeling of hopelessness that few horror films go for in a denouement, which I appreciate greatly.
Cadaver really had the opportunity to say “eat the rich” and then didn’t, which is part of the reason why I can’t score it too high as this missed opportunity would have made perfect sense with the direction of the story. Jokes aside, Cadaver is an allegorical tale. One wealthy man recruits only the people he deems talented enough to act and/or survive and tricks them into eradicating those he deems lesser, the poor. For those "gifted" these jobs, he exploits them by looming their safety and comfort over their shoulders. He often repeats how they should be grateful for him and that he provides so much for them. It’s not subtle at all but for a film as silly as Cadaver it doesn’t need to be. It’s worth noting that they could have done more with this, as Netflix’s previous foreign language allegorical tale, The Platform, from 2019 can attest.
It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but Cadaver is still an enjoyable experience. Its story is flimsy, cliched, and predictable, but I enjoyed it for its atmosphere and pacing. I’m a sucker for movies like Cadaver: theatre settings, trap doors and secret passageways, post-apocalyptic wastelands, etc. It checks a lot of boxes for me that it may not for you, and that’s okay! Personally, I would rate it as an effective horror film rather than a wholly good one. For those in need of dinner and a show, Cadaver is serving up a nice helping of Norwegian horror on Netflix.
Overall Score? 6.5/10