MAY 7, 2012
It’s a shame that the “let’s remake all those Asian horror movies” phase of Hollywood ended before anyone had the bright idea to remake one that wasn’t very good in the first place. Nearly all of the remakes pale compared to their originals; the only one I think improved on its predecessor was The Ring, but it’s not like Ringu was that bad of a film to begin with (I do think it's overrated, however) – they made a decent film better is all. Because if this was still happening, maybe we could get a good version of The Screen At Kamchanod, instead of the total mess we’re probably stuck with forever.
The concept is fascinating – in 1987, a projectionist was ordered to screen a film in the middle of a field, where no one was seemingly in attendance. He ran the film anyway, and halfway through a bunch of what appeared to be ghosts showed up. 20 years later, some folks (a journalist, a doctor, etc) decide to recreate the event and also see if they can figure out what really happened that night. Being a horror film, the more they discover, the more prone they are to being killed. All good, right?
Nope. The above synopsis was pieced together from IMDb and a review I read to see if Netflix’s terrible subtitles were their fault or on the DVD (they were at the very bottom of the frame – the lower part of letters like “p” and “g” were cut off entirely), because I could barely figure out that much as I watched the film, let alone anything specific like “Who is that guy?” “When is this scene taking place?” “Was that a dream sequence?” or “What the fuck is going on?” Even factoring in my usual trouble getting certain nuances out of these films because of cultural differences (the appearance of a ghost in Thailand doesn’t have as much novelty as it does here, I guess) as well as the fact that I’m spending the majority of the movie staring at the bottom of the screen, this one was damn near impenetrable – even the Ju-On sequels were easier to follow.
Now, if this was the usual crap about a vengeful ghost haunting their cell phone or pencils or something, I wouldn’t mind as much. But the creepy back-story is fascinating, and really resonated with me as I know what it’s like to play a movie to an empty house (seriously, why did no one come to my screening of The Descent?), so I hated seeing it wasted on such a needlessly incoherent tale. In fact, it’s even the rare “based on true events” horror movie that’s not a lie – the strange screening actually did happen, and after 45 minutes I began to wish that I was just watching a documentary about it (or reading a book) instead of feeling my brain turn to mush as the film got less and less intelligible. I’ve had fever dreams that were easier to decipher.
Plus, it’s just not scary. I’ve long held the theory that the more confusing a horror is, the harder it is to be scared, but I can see how those kinds of movies can at least get you freaked out, and that’s fine. But here, the confusing back and forth structure and woozy explanation of who’s a ghost and who isn’t just erodes any chance at being spooked by the infrequent chill scenes. There’s a nice bit in a hospital where someone sees a ghost by the curtains sort of fading into view, and maybe 1-2 other isolated bits on the same level, but the overall film lacks any real tension. And it even botches some of the easier scares – there’s a scene where one of the protagonists is alarmed to see that the monk they were just talking to doesn’t appear in his rearview mirror, only for his partner to say “No, he’s standing right there” – and that’s it. We don’t see the now “complete” image in his mirror to inform us that maybe he was just seeing things. It’d be like if we didn’t get the shot outside the window when Laurie tells Tommy that there’s no boogeyman out there in Halloween.
In short, just go see a horror movie by yourself. It’s bound to be a better movie and you’ll probably get scared more often.
What say you?
P.S. The subtitles refer to the area as Kamchanot, so I’m not sure if the title is spelled wrong or the subs are even worse than suspected. Probably the latter.