Homegrown Horror

Published on 16 March 2018

Hollywood is well and good, but there’s no fear fodder quite like Singapore filmmakers showing you something strange in your neighbourhood.

By Jo Tan

It’s going to be a bumper year for things that go bump in the night, and those things might be closer than you think. The not-so-distant future will see premieres of homegrown horror movies, proudly set in Singapore or the region. Director extraordinaire Glen Goei wrapped a movie about the Pontianak just over a month ago, while award-winning filmmaker Daniel Hui delves into more darkness with his feature titled Demons. We speak to a few other local moviemakers about what other scares Singaporeans can soon expect in the cinema.

23:59 The Haunting Hour

23:59 was the Singapore horror movie that famously beat out foreign offerings to top local box office charts, with its too-close-for-comfort tales about ghostly encounters in a seemingly Singaporean army camp, resulting in grisly deaths. It only made sense that the frightening film got a sequel – 23:59 The Haunting Hour – targeted for an end 2018 release. Says returning director Gilbert Chan (who is also one of the film’s writers), “There are so many interesting ghost stories that come from the army that it would be a waste to just stop at one! Personally, I am very passionate about horror, and am always amazed by the collective fear and the reactions of the cinema audience when something really works.”

This sequel is once again centred round the army, but promises to be bigger and better than its predecessor. “This time round, there are three different stories set in three different eras, so it’s three times more challenging! I’ve also tried to push the boundaries further, with many rain scenes, underwater scenes, a bigger cast, and even better special effects for the ghosts.”

Rest assured the film won’t be all mindless jump scares – expect the terror to also come with looks at humanity and society. “I personally like things with a slight touch of humour, and believe that even a serious topic can be approached with a sense of humour. Also, I increasingly feel a need to tell stories that can connect with people on a deeper level.”

Zombiepura

It seems our guys in green don’t just have ghosts to deal with onscreen, but also the undead: Horror comedy film Zombiepura will tentatively be released this Halloween.

Says the movie’s producer and star, Alaric Tay, “I always love the drama and emotional connection zombie stories can evoke. From the get go when Jacen first pitched Zombiepura to me, I loved it. I always wanted to create an apocalyptic zombie story that Singaporeans could be proud of commercially to put on the world stage.”

Zombiepura tells the tale of a zombie outbreak in an isolated army camp where a commander must fight to survive alongside a lazy reservist soldier, played by Tay. “It’s horror comedy, without being slapstick. The soldier I depict is an everyman, far from the usual caricatures that audiences are so used to seeing me play on The Noose.”

Tan hopes even non-horror fans might appreciate its highly relatable message. “I hope audiences will firstly appreciate the movie for its story about friendship and priorities. And I also hope that people will like the movie enough to tell all their friends to go watch it.”

Repossession

From spirits of the dead to the undead bodies, we go to a tale about malevolent forces that take over the bodies of the living. Repossession is a movie about – you guessed it- possession, and follows a father and corporate high-flyer who is plagued by an evil that causes him to do unspeakable things and destroys his perfect life.  This is the debut feature film of co-writing and directing team Goh Ming Siu and Scott C. Hillyard, though Goh has extensive writing and directing experience for TV, and also wrote internationally released film Hotel de Sade.

While horror films are generally synonymous with elaborate special effects, indie film Repossession is rather different, with the terror stemming less from visual spectacle. “We’re fans of slow-burn horror that gets under the skin and messes with your head. Probably ‘psychological horror’ would be the most accurate description of this film’s genre – the juxtaposition of real-life versus supernatural horror,” says the team, referring to the inherent ambiguity of the tale, where terrible things suddenly happen in mundane scenarios, and the protagonist cannot tell if he is possessed or going mad.

They admit freely that one major plus point of making a psychological horror film is that this genre is doable on a low budget. “When you have no money, then you need to engage audiences in different ways – Some of the best sci-fi and horror out there have tiny budgets and minimal effects. There’s a reason why people still remember The Sixth Sense, even though it didn’t have effects all over the place.  When you have no money, then you need to engage audiences in different ways: Cinematography and lighting create mood and atmosphere. Camera movement and editing creates tension. Good sound design disturbs audiences at a gut level. And compelling characters give them a reason to care when bad stuff happens. So hopefully what we put together at the end of the day is good enough to affect audiences in those ways.”

While Repossession will also see screens likely later this year, through submissions to various film festivals, Goh and Hillyard are not particularly fazed about the amount of homegrown horror that it might be in competition with, preferring to examine why Singaporeans seem to love the genre so much. “Maybe Singaporeans like to scare themselves in fictional ways because it distracts us from the really scary things, like how on earth we are going to afford a flat nowadays.”

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