The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra (2022)

Rating: D

Dir: Park Sye-young
Star: Moon Hyein, Haam Seokyoung, On Jeongyen, Jung Sumin

I’m not sure what I was expecting, based on the poster and Tubi synopsis of “A creature born inside an abandoned mattress feasts on its victims’ vertebrae while struggling to break free from the bed and its past.” Probably something along the lines of Killer Sofa – a tongue in cheek B-movie, which at least tries to have fun with a patently ridiculous premise. Instead, what you actually get is a prime slice of film festival art-wank, in which boring characters go all “Poor me” over their uninteresting lives, while lying on top of a mouldy mattress. Events unfold over a period of more than thirteen hundred years. By the end, this felt like it had taken place in real time.

I guess the creature is an appropriate one, being a manifestation of the general sense of gloom and alienation, from which everyone here seems to suffer. If Morrissey was a fungus – and thinking about it, that would explain a lot – he’d be the one we find here. It begins with a caption discussing their lifespan, saying they can live up to a month, “but there are always variables.” The first humans we meet are couple Gyeol (Moon) and Yoon (Haam), who are moving into an apartment together, and bring the mattress, apparently with its parasitic inhabitant already gestating within it. When they break up a few months later, the mattress begins to be passed around, despite an ever-increasing stain which would certainly put me off it.

Still, I guess if you’re a woman dying in her apartment (top), you probably aren’t too bothered – and that’s one of the people who inherits the mattress and its passenger. Does it seek out particularly sad people? Or are they sad, in part because they are sleeping on dodgy, second-hand bedding? That’s about the depth of the philosophical questions explored here. The “feasting” mentioned in the synopsis is hardly that: a couple of people complaining about a stabbing pain in their lower back. Which is basically me on a Monday morning. Eventually, the creature seems to take on humanoid form, all posting letters ‘n’ stuff (I’m not kidding). Though this feels more like a cop-out, because the creators couldn’t be arsed with creating an actual monster.

Park does have a decent visual eye, and the soundtrack occasionally makes an impression. At one point, it goes into a pleasing synthesizer rendition of Debussy’s Claire de Lune, which had me subsequently reaching for my copy of Tomita’s Snowflakes are Dancing. However, the joys to be had otherwise are scant, and I found myself eagerly anticipating Tubi’s commercial breaks, as a respite from the grinding melancholy. I guess if you’re after an angst-ridden insight into the human condition, this might be for you. Me? I just wanted to see a mattress eating people: apparently, that’s too much to ask. The 65-minute running time seemed considerably longer – understandable, considering you are basically watching fungi grow, and by the end apparently replacing humanity entirely on planet Earth. I, for one, welcome our new mushroom overlords.