Film Review: The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra
Did you know we each have 33 vertebrae? You do now, thanks to Park Sye-young’s first feature: fantasy-horror THE FIFTH THORACIC VERTEBRA. A meditative, indie creature feature with both painful body horror and poetic transformation.
When an imperfect couple doesn’t communicate, their mattress gets left out in the rain. They sleep on it anyway, causing a sentient mould to grow in its damp fibres. Once fully incubated, the creature plucks its first vertebrae from the dysfunctional couple. The mattress is thrown out and picked up again and again, all the while stealing bones and sinew from the backs of each of its new occupants. It Grows stronger and more human-like with each gruesome theft.
Not only does the mattress collect body parts, but it witnesses the fallout from people crashing into one another, listening and gaining insight into how to be human. If all the emotions everyone has ever felt could become corporeal, maybe they would become a mattress monster.
Be prepared for a melancholy, slow ride through episodic snapshots of the people who come in contact with the womb full of viscera that becomes their bed. All are unrelated, connected only by their experience of the human condition, well, and being spinal donors
to an incubating mould creature. THE FIFTH THORACIC VERTEBRA is an innovative and beautiful character study. From final conversations between ex-lovers and last wishes from the dying to hospitality workers needing a cigarette break, the mould monster collects them all as it journeys around South Korea.
Usually, horror fans want some gnarly practical effects in their body horror films, me included, but for THE FIFTH THORACIC VERTEBRA, less is more, with a more abstract take on scenes of bloody transformation. As for the violent side of the body horror, it will also make you wince with each ‘donation’. We kind of need all our spine bones!
Park Sye-young has made an ethereal horror film that is both intimate and disturbing. Magical realism turns THE FIFTH THORACIC VERTEBRA into a weird, gory and gross fairytale. A mouldy mattress is my worst nightmare, but it becomes a fresh, impactful musing on what it means to be alive. A film about a ‘sentient mattress monster born from fungus’ will sound absurd no matter how I describe it. I don’t really have any negative things to say about the film. I’m so glad I caught it before the end of the year; it has definitely made it into my top 5 of 2023.
THE FIFTH THORACIC VERTEBRA is available on DVD/VOD on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu starting December 12th via IndiePix Films.
“A meditative, indie creature feature with both painful body horror and poetic transformation”