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DVD REVIEW:  Visits — Hungry Ghost Anthology

Asian horror movies are usually notoriously the scariest within the genre. At least, in my opinion. Very rarely have I ever not found myself absolutely terrified by an original horror movie produced and directed within a country such as Korea, China, Japan, Malaysia, etc. There is a certain undefined twisted darkness to these films that western movies chase to embrace and deliver. Especially when it comes to ghost stories. Asian directors have absolutely mastered the art of the ghost story, bringing to the silver screen tales of the supernatural that consistently cause one’s skin to crawl and one’s dreams to be forever haunted by specters hell-bent on claiming the souls of the living around them. This is why I was utterly dismayed when I was nearly lulled to sleep by the 2004 collection of short films entitled VISITS: HUNGRY GHOSTS ANTHOLOGY by a selected group of young Malaysian directors.

When I received the screener in the mail, I was thrilled, my expectations of an evening of eerie, chilling cinematic enjoyment daringly high. However, within the first ten minutes, I had already found myself bored beyond redemption. The four vignettes, which comprise VISITS, take place within Kuala Lumpar during the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival, the Chinese equivalent of Halloween when it is believed that the gates of purgatory open and the supernatural may cross over to walk amongst the living. Each story is uniquely different from Low Ngai Yuen’s “1413”, a tale of a teenage suicide pact in which the surviving girl is haunted by the vengeful spirit of the one who died, to Ng Tian Hann’s film “Nodding Scoop” in which a filmmaker attempts to document an ancient ritual used to contact ghosts with the unfortunate consequence of actually summoning a murderous spirit.

However, even though the stories themselves are creative and interesting and most definitely original, the subtly with which the directors approach their craft unfortunately dilutes them to the point where they are no longer even remotely scary. And these are not even full-length feature films. These are film shorts and so it doubly surprised me, the way in which they stretched the content of each story to the point of making them feel as if you had sat through a two hour film, though the stories themselves could have been told in a matter of a few minutes each when the extraneous content was removed. Upon reflection, this is largely in part due to a lack of skillful dramatic screenwriting which ended up stripping the life from the stories and leaving the audience with a shadow of the true potential of each film.

I truly wanted to like this collection of films for I could see the potential in each directorial vision, but the excruciatingly slow pacing and sometimes monotonous and emotionless dialogue left me feeling restless and desiring for a more intense horror film experience. I understand that these directors were approaching the horror genre from a more artistic fringe indie perspective and attempting to create a sense of suspense in their quiet approach to the ghost stories they are telling. It is a treacherously fine line, however, a director walks when going this route with the horror genre. Too quiet, to subtle and the impact is lost, no matter how twisted the effect of the ending is supposed have been. I do believe that the four filmmakers of VISITS have tremendous potential and I will be interested to see what they develop in the future. However, for me, VISITS was simply a sleepy and forgettable debut, which I, unfortunately, fear will be lost amongst the tidal wave of indie horror films if it hasn’t already been.

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