Fantasia International Film Festival is not only known for having a wide array of great genre films from across the world, but it’s also known for screening experimental films you often can’t find anywhere else. One such film is The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra, a South Korean film written and directed by Park Syeyoung.
What makes this film unique is that it tells the story of a mattress. Or, more specifically, it tells the story of a mold that slowly grows on a mattress, eventually birthing a strange creature that feeds on peoples’ fifth thoracic vertebra. The bizarre film is just 62 minutes long, jumping through time with a countdown of the days before and after the birth of the creature. We watch its entire existence, trapped on or within the mattress. We also get glimpses of various people and relationships, often showing these people at their most private, vulnerable, and lonely. There isn’t necessarily a true plot in the traditional sense, but it does show what appears to be the full life cycle of the mold-born entity.
There is a romantic, fantastical nature to The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra, despite the monstrous focus of the film. The cinematography and lighting give the film a dreamy look, which provides a fascinating contrast to the moldy, slimy creature and its feedings. It’s truly visually stunning. The resulting film is a strange work of art.
Although we only see most of the human characters briefly, the performances from the relatively large cast are all very well done. With all of these performances there is a constant sense of loneliness. Whether it be the result of failing relationships, illnesses, or a misspent life, the victims we see the mold creature feeding on all have a sadness to them. It gives the illusion that the creature is not just feeding on the vertebra, but its feeding on the sadness that accompanies feeling alone.
The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra is a stunning, bizarre, and thought-provoking experimental film that, much like a work of art in a gallery, leaves much open to audience interpretation.
OVERALL RATING: I honestly don’t know if I can give this film a number. It defies rating. It’s a film that needs to be experienced firsthand.