Friday, October 20, 2023

The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra: A Fungus Story

Nothing scares a new home-owner like mold. Fungi is also becoming a growing preoccupation of world health authorities. With that in mind, since we have already had the Blob, so why not a killer fungus? However, screenwriter-director-cinematographer Park Sye-young takes a more experimental approach in The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra, which premieres today on IndiePix Unlimited.

It first formed in the ratty mattress of an unhappy couple. He was rather irresponsible and lazy, so maybe it is fitting he becomes the first victim of the fungus. Despite the conspicuous black rot-like fungus, their former mattress gets passed around. At one point, it even ends up at a love hotel, where it attacks another unhappy couple. Ironically, it forms an affectionate bond with one of his victims, who remains bed-ridden on the offending mattress, presumably to prevent further contamination.

Since the film unfolds from the POV of the fungus, it is necessarily fragmented. As a result, it very definitely has an avant-garde vibe, but there are still vividly disgusting elements of body horror. Perhaps this is more interesting as a concept than an executed film. Even at an economical 65 minutes, it is a bit of a challenge to sit through a film dedicated to a toxic fungus.

Park deliberately frames the film from off-kilter and oblique perspectives, in a hazy, gauzy style. Yet, somehow, the performances of Park Ji-hyeon and Moon Hye-in are strangely, perhaps shockingly, emotionally resonant as two of the women most directly affected by the noxious, semi-sentient fungus.

Frankly, the question of how much of the resulting lethal infections are merely instinctual versus deliberate is never fully explored. The fungus seems to be able to form personal attachments, but it keeps killing anyway. Still, it probably represents the most psychologically complex fungus ever rendered on film, at least so far. It is impressive that Park realized his vision to the extent that he did. It is also impressive that an insurance company presumably agreed to bond the production after learning the main character was a fungus. Only recommended for the curious and adventurous,
The Fifth Thoracic Vertebra starts streaming today (10/20) on Indie Pix Unlimted.