December 7, 2023


2022 / 65 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😼

In the Korean film, The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra, a sentient, parasitic fungus gestates inside a mattress, growing larger as it feeds on the titular body part of anyone unfortunate enough to sleep there. Over the course of years, the film chronicles the mattress’ journey (and its occupant) as it’s acquired by various characters, mostly people experiencing some form of heartbreak. 

However, those expecting a goofy & gruesome slab of body horror are likely to be disappointed. The film does contain some effectively icky sequences - such as periodic montages depicting the humanoid creature’s growth, aided in large part by sickening sound effects - but in between are lengthy, low-key scenes of each character’s personal crisis leading up to being (sort of) attacked. 

One of the film's big action scenes.
By sort of, I mean the victims react in pain, but don’t appear to struggle, nor is it clear whether or not they die after the creature helps itself to their vertebra. It’s also suggested that it (again, sort of) grows stronger by feeding on their emotions. Writer-director Park Sye-young strives for a surreal aesthetic & tone, which he largely achieves. And conceptually, there’s some interesting stuff here, especially the nature of the creature. Whether for narrative or budgetary reasons, it’s never fully revealed, but through clever use of sound and sparse puppetry, Sye-young renders it fairly malevolent.

However, a major liability is the repetitious, episodic structure: Characters are introduced, they engage in brief verbal conflict, they’re attacked, the creature grows. Then the mattress ends up somewhere else, where the whole thing is repeated. Not a single character has more than about ten total minutes of screen time, nor are we given much reason to care about any of them. Additionally, a deliberate pace and overall emotional aloofness make the whole thing feel longer than its brief running time.

But even though the film is ultimately more cerebral than visceral, especially during the ambiguous final act, The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra has just enough intriguing moments to make it worth checking out at least once. There’s a definite Eraserhead vibe running through the whole thing that adventurous viewers might appreciate.

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