What’s Halloween without a Saw sequel? This marks the second holiday in a row minus Jigsaw and a cellar filled with raw teenage bodies to exenterate. Last year at this time Frankenweenie, Sinister, Paranormal Activity 4, and Silent Hill: Revelation were all competing to scare up holiday business at the box office.
It’s ironic that a year ending in 13 has nothing more to show for itself come October 31 than an unmemorable remake of Carrie.
There was a time several years ago when it was near impossible to find a horror film that didn’t feature a pale Asian chick whose black, gnarly knee-length hair had a nasty habit of partially obscuring her face. Sentimental effusion overtook me as I gazed at the poster for House in the Alley, but the similarities between this and Ringu or The Grudge stop there.
Newlyweds Thao (Ngo Van Thanh) and Thanh (Tran Bao Son) had planned on making the large home situated in one of Saigon’s traditional alleys their happy-ever-after family dwelling. But then a miscarriage presents a life-changing dilemma: it’s either the life of the unborn baby or goodbye Thao.
Racked with guilt and terrified of being alone, Thao can’t bring herself to give the child a proper burial and insists that its remains be kept in a mini-mausoleum in their bedroom. Reluctant to leave the house, Thanh finally convinces Thao to join him for a romantic dinner stylishly shot through strands of pensile harp strings. A bloody rare dinner steak that begins to bleed on the plate ranks high among this year’s list of memorably disturbing imagery.
The first time the couple make love after the misbirth is shown from the perspective of the tiny wooden box. At this point, it’s safe to say writer/director Le-Van Kiet had full command of my attention.
We don’t leave the alley abode for what feels like the first third of the picture. It’s only after Thao gives Thanh permission to return to work that we discover just how displaced the northern couple is and how subservient his position in life is. The striking workers at the family-run business laughingly call him boss knowing full well it’s factory head (and Thanh’s nagging mother) Tran Bich who calls the shots.
Considering the obvious budgetary restrictions, the filmmakers could not afford to transform the house into a full-blown character, and the film is at its most effective when centering on the melodrama inherent in the psychological horror. The film is creepy enough without the addition of children of the damned tiptoeing across the roof or mysteriously appearing in mirrors. The few concessions that are made to modern horror films are as unwarranted as they are quaint. Though I do admit that a smile crossed my face when a primitive, stop-motion toddler briefly popped up from beneath the sheets.
Fans in search of minor psychological thrills (with a major in family melodrama) will want to spend this All Hallows’ Eve at the AMC Fashion Valley.