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VIETNAMESE HORROR STORY (CHUYAN MA GAN NHA, 2022)
Directed and written by Tran Huu Tan.
Starring Thanh Truc Huynh, Lê Bê La, Can Mac, Ngoc Hiep Nguyen, Kha Nhu, Tran Phong, Xuan Phuc, Trinh Tai, Huu Tien, Van Trang
Find out more about this film here!!
Four Vietnamese kids get together for dinner and when the lights go out due to a storm, they are soon joined by a fifth. The group decide to pass the time by telling a trio of horror stories with deep roots in Vietnamese legend and lore. One tells a tale of an aspiring actress and the sacrifices she goes through in order to attain fame. Another follows a young man who works as a street magician taking care of his elderly father and haunted by spirits. The third and final story follows a young spiritualist who is approached by a couple to help find the remains of their long dead relative.
VIETNAMESE HORROR STORY which is kind of a misleading title and should really read VIETNAMESE HORROR STORIES since it is an anthology, is supposed to be a huge sensation in Vietnam. And I can understand why. It embraces old traditions and customs and modernizes it for a new audience. My favorite part of the film was finding out the intricate and deeply soulful rituals the culture takes part in to honor their dead. If there is anything I can take from this film, it is that I understand that the dead are deeply respected and honored in that land.
Unfortunately, VIETNAMESE HORROR STORY chooses to ape some of the worst aspects of Western horror. The film definitely shines when it builds tension and lays out a heavy feeling of dread, but the number of jump scares really took me out of the film. While most of them are legit scares and not false starts like a cat jumping through a window, the film relies too much on a loud burst of music and something coming at you. While the horrors vary in size and shape, this technique is used by most of them in every story. It’s one of my least favorite aspects of American horror films and VIETNAMESE HORROR STORY is unfortunately riddled with it.
That said, I did really like all three stories. While the first story was the most clearly and plainly told, the second and third require a real attention to detail in order to get it. Especially the third tale which proved to be my favorite as it is both a heart-wrenching drama as well as a terrifying ghost story. Each tale has a twist with only one of them I found to be predictable. In terms of story, all three really do a great job of being unpredictable and fun.
There is also quite a lot of gore. Seems beheadings are the flavor of the day in Vietnamese culture as there are a whole lot of headless bodies shambling about and lunging for you here. There are also a few creepy smiling kids, the obligatory ghost girl with hair over her eyes, and a monster with an eye in the palm of one hand and a mouth on the other reminiscent of PAN’S LABYRINTH’s iconic Pale Man. Paired with the incense burning and all of the altars, it makes for an interesting and haunting experience with some nice goppy gore to satiate those blood fiends out there.
Anthologies are rarely as strong as this one in terms of strength of story and production levels. This is no collection of shorts cheaply thread together with a loose premise. Everything looks and feels authentic. The acting is on point, though no one delivered an over the top or film stealing performance. All in all, while there is an over-reliance on the jump scare, VIETNAMESE HORROR STORY stands as a quality representation of cultural horror from overseas.