AUGUST 28, 2010
I was on the fence about sticking around for Dream Home (Cantonese: Wai dor lei ah yut ho), since it was late and I'd have to read the subtitles (in other words, I might as well have brought in a pillow). Also, everyone I knew skipped it in order to hit the pub early. But I figured I'd give it a chance, since I really did want to try to see every movie, as well as (if memory serves) beat my record for most theatrical films in a single calendar day (six!). If it sucked, I'd leave, if not, I'd fall asleep and wonder what I missed.
Well not only did I stay, I stayed awake! Apparently I had consumed the exact right combination of caffeinated and sugary products during the day to keep me awake but not jumpy (which is worse in a theater - the seats are comfortable but after 12 hrs sitting still is not the easiest regardless of the comfort level). And the movie was a delight, combining over the top slasher kills with a sort of touching story about a woman trying to provide a nice place for her ailing father, and it even had a little bit of light social relevance, which is very rare for an Asian horror film (at least the ones I see - not a lot of current world metaphor to be found in the latest "wet haired ghost girl attacks people through technology" offering).
The kills are, obviously, the biggest draw. Eyeballs popping, guts spilling, impalements... it's all here, and quite glorious. All of them drew applause from the crowd, and were well done to boot. The only exception was when our heroine killed a pregnant woman who didn't even seem to be one of her targets (more of a wrong place wrong time deal). I mean, I wasn't exactly hoping any of the characters would die, but they were also largely a bunch of jerks: every man in the movie cheated on his wife it seems, and the group of youths who serve as the "main" deaths are drug pushers and borderline date rapists, so no loss there. But the pregnant lady might have been a bit too far past the "OK" line for this sort of thing... even the Friday the 13th movies only killed one pregnant girl in their history, and she wasn't even showing. Plus it's one of the most brutal kills in the movie - she ties a bag around the lady's head and sucks the air out (after knocking her down onto her belly - likely killing the baby in the process right there). At least if it was more of an accidental type thing it would be OK.
Luckily the movie recovers, providing kills that remain in the realm of good fun (again, like a Friday movie), as well as providing an unusual fragmented narrative in which we gradually learn what has pushed her this far in order to obtain the titular dream home. It doesn't build toward a twist or anything, but it allows to fill in the story without having to save all the kills (which all occur in a single night; the movie spans two decades) until the end of the film. And some of them are fairly touching - I particularly liked the ones involving when her family was forced out of their home to make way for development, which cost her her friendship with a kid who lived across the way. They communicate through a string and two can device, and at one point manage to turn the word "asshole" into an endearing part of their normal conversation (which has a pretty great payoff at the end of the film). Most of the others are just about her getting screwed over by bank loans and the housing market problems (that's the relevance I mentioned), but these give the film an unexpected heart.
I was also happy to see something on film. Being a Frightfest virgin, maybe this is just how they do it, but there have been so few films shown on film at the festival so far, I was beginning to forget what a cigarette burn even looked like. The digital projection here is superb, but nothing will ever look as good as a nice 35mm film print, as far as I'm concerned. Ironically, the reel switches were in odd places (mid-scene, as opposed to over an establishing shot or something like they usually are), and the print, which has played other festivals, had a few minor scratches. But given the large number of world premieres FF hosts, I would think they would have more film prints, playing for the first time and looking wonderful.
Besides the pregnant lady killing, my only other problem with the movie was a goddamn Snorri-cam shot. Can we PLEASE stop using this for "our main character's head is spinning due to recent events" situations? Even if they actually turned to the (normal) camera and said "My head is spinning due to these recent events", it would be less annoying and disruptive than this setup. I can probably count on one hand the number of times it was used to good effect. Plus it seems that they didn't even have the same camera for it, so not only is it annoying conceptually, it's ugly on a visual level as well. Wouldn't a POV shot make more sense anyway?
Back to the positive, I was also impressed with how well the kill scenes worked in such confined spaces. We're used to slashers being out in the woods or big houses, but they're all in tiny apartments. So there's not a lot of room for a chase or whatever, but the kills are not exactly quick either. And our killer is a bit klutzy (she didn't set out to be a killer, after all), so there's always a bit of hope for each victim as they momentarily get the upper hand on her. And you think they COULD succeed, unlike say Jason or Leatherface, who are just too formidable (and good at their job) to get taken down by the average victim. It's a terrific way around what could have been a major hurdle.
Like Bloody Reunion, it seems our Eastern brothers have a pretty good knack for slasher films - it's a shame we don't see more of them. I don't know how well they are received in their native countries, but I think this one will be pretty much loved if it gets a Stateside release. Look for it!
What say you?