The hottest urban legend making its way through the schoolyard is the tale of The Slit-Mouthed Woman; she wears a surgical mask to hide her disfigured face and roams the streets looking for children to kill with her long, pointy shears. "Am I pretty?" she asks, then she makes with what the French call le stab-stab.
Soon children begin to disappear, said to be victims of The Slit-Mouthed Woman. Desperate parents and earnest young schoolteachers mount a search to unravel the mystery before Good Ol' Slitty decimates the entire youth population.
I had a real love-hate relationship with Carved. Wait, scratch that- the 90 minutes we spent together weren't so much "love-hate" as "love-hmmm?", for you see, every amazing element about this film was counterbalanced by an unanswered question or a point of confusion. For example, by the end of the film the phrase "Am I pretty?" morphs into "Aim for my neck"- perhaps there's a translation issue, or the phrases sound similar in Japanese and the children confuse one for the other in the recounting of the tale. It's clunky, but it's not something that gets in the way of enjoying (or understanding) the film.
Much like Candyman, "The Slit-Mouthed Woman" is a name whispered in the schoolyard and used to threaten naughty children- behave yourself, or The Slit-Mouthed Woman will snatch you and kill you. Also like Candyman, this killer has an origin story that's revealed during the course of the film- and it's got nothing to do with the "origin story" explained on the DVD case! It's not the age old story of infidelity and jealous husbands, as the case claims- instead, it's a harrowing story of child abuse...and this is where Carved puts the "extreme" in...uh, "Tartan Asia Extreme".
While there's little explicitness in Carved, I honestly can't imagine this film seeing the light of day were it an American production- violence against children is one of the last taboos in cinema. I know people who were offended by the off-screen killing of a child in High Tension- they'd be certain to go apoplectic if they took in this film. Children are hit, kicked, tied up, stabbed, slashed...but again, it's not completely explicit. The child abuse is tightly-woven into the plot, however, and at times it feels a bit relentless. It's ballsy- so be warned; there's equal opportunity violence here.
To those of you who've had your fill of wet, long-haired ghosts and think that's all there is to Asian horror cinema, give Carved a try. This film is not your typical supernatural ghost story fare- The Slit-Mouthed Woman appears in broad daylight, and she does far more to her victims than simply glowering at them. Carved is much more visceral than you'd expect; it resonates in reality and in the end, it's far more disturbing than most ghost stories. I enjoyed the film more and more as it went on, and the last half-hour or so was relentlessly creepy.
Overall, Carved was a pleasantly frightening surprise. Just remember- if some strange woman asks "Am I pretty?"...always say yes.