Another heavy-handed, class-conscious international genre film graces Netflix’s thumbnails, but Cadaver is ultimately too flawed to make good on a compelling premise.
What’s this? Another Netflix international horror-thriller-thing built around a rather unsubtle class-division metaphor like The Platform? Check! But it’s also a couple of other things, including Norwegian, which is often a good sign but here amounts to very little, and set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia since you can never have too many of those. Cadaver arrives with its fair share of on-trend sensibilities and what is, to be fair, a pretty compelling setup, but it’s also blighted by some gaping plot holes, an increasing silliness, a fair share of played-out genre tropes, and some sledgehammer-subtle social commentary, all of which conspire to make it seem much longer than its 86-minute runtime.
That premise, since we’re on the subject, sees the starving Leonora (Gitte Witt), Jacob (Thomas Gullestad), and their daughter Alice (Tuva Olivia Remman) lured into an obvious trap at a local hotel directed by the creepy, eloquent and eccentric Dracula-alike Mathias (Thorbjørn Harr), swayed by promises of a meal. The grub, though, is part of a so-called charitable theatre play that divides the actors and audiences by their wearing of masks, and of course, the lines between fiction and reality become increasingly blurred as audience members begin disappearing and various oddities start piling up.
That’s a good setup! And it works as one for a while until the implausibility gets too unwieldy for Cadaver to properly manage. It’s a little undercut by the idea of anyone falling for what is so clearly not what it seems, but there’s a palpable sense of desperation following the rather nebulous nuclear disaster and, frankly, this is the kind of thing we overlook as an audience to allow the story to play out anyway. Eventually, though, the film’s eagerness to descend into metaphor and cliché all in service of a development that is easy enough to figure out ahead of time squanders some of the goodwill, and it’s unlikely Cadaver will drum up the same kind of hot-topic attention as the aforementioned The Platform did.
Written and directed by Jarand Herdal, Cadaver feels like the work of a promising filmmaker flexing some underused muscles. Leaning – even intermittently – on tortuously familiar devices like hallucinatory mental decline and extremely heavy-handed class commentary will be an impulse best avoided in subsequent projects, but the more than respectable production and direction of actors will ensure that there are subsequent projects. It’s a mixed bag and won’t make much of an impact in the streaming world this weekend, but there are certainly worse versions of a hellish future to be had. Just turn on the news.