Asian Horror. There, that’s got your attention.
Modern Asian horror films are regarded by many aficionados as the finest in their field, being as they are unbelievably inventive in their shocking violence, whilst still being a story intelligently conceived and told. Sadly most aren’t given a wide distribution overseas, and we Westerners have to be vigilant to catch these films at short-running film festivals before Hollywood snaffle up the rights and remake them with Sarah Michelle Geller. Thankfully, Dream Home, the satirical slasher about the perfect living space which in the UK had been greatly admired by patrons of its midnight screening at the 2010 FrightFest horror film festival, has found its way onto Region 2 DVD, thus making our own homes a little more perfect as a result.
Dream Home is a simple story, told a little too complexly. Cheng Lai-Sheung – played with undiluted cool by extremely watchable rock star Josie Ho, who not only co-produced the film but also provided some music – has dreamed of owning a place overlooking Hong Kong’s Victoria Bay practically since birth. Alas, in Hong Kong’s ruinous economic climate (there’s your satire, folks), the price rises further and further out of her reach however many extra jobs she takes on. Indeed, her main career is offering home loans in a bank, making her a major functioning instigator of her own problem. Something has to crack, and as an opening caption ominously intones, “In a crazy city, if one is to survive, one has got to be even crazier“.
The scenes of Cheng’s working and social lives are suitably creepy in themselves, successfully mirroring the real-life grimness of the times. But let’s get to why we’re really watching this film: the killings. One can’t fault the killings. All are committed with household objects to really hit home (no pun intended) the domesticity of the film, plus the idea that this all could conceivably happen within our very real disastrous financial climate. Yet despite the cosiness of the DIY tools used, there’s nothing remotely comforting about the violence, which is not held back in any way. From what is practically the film’s first shot, in which a man is choked using a plastic cable tie, the viewer knows what they are in for, and whether or not they want to go along for the ride. And as the deceased is (or rather was) the building’s security guard, those brave enough to stay can anticipate the rest of the movie knowing the rest of the building’s inhabitants are lambs for the slaughter.
And what a slaughter it is. The slasher moments in this film are some of the best ever seen, unabashedly showing off original methods, convincing gore and ear-curdling sounds (though the DVD sound mix does rather mute a neat joke where the killer hears music droning from an upstairs apartment, and checks her watch disdainfully, concerned about human civility if not human life). Oh, and of course there’s blood. Oh so much blood. If it can be physically popped out of a human body, it here is. The slam of a pregnant woman as she falls face down onto a hard wooden floor may well be the film’s most gutchurning moment – “Eleven dead bodies,” states Cheng manipulatively at the film’s close, “twelve lives” – but its most chilling may be a relatively sensitive killing, where Cheng insures she is to receive what’s in her father’s will sooner rather than later.
Of course, being a typical stylish Asian horror, the film’s slayings occasionally burst out with unsubtle comic relief where necessary, notably a handful of ghastly and gratuitously nude partying teens who indulge in sex and drugs right up until their dying moments. In one blackly witty moment, an adulterous husband is attacked with the golf clubs he carries around to cover up for his cheating ways.
The one thing which lets this film down is its confused structure. From the opening scene the night of the killings is intercut with the events of weeks earlier leading up to this eventual madness – which would work excellently, were not both timelines further intercut with flashbacks to other notable moments in Cheng’s life, the furthest back being her childhood sixteen years previously. The audience might have more goodwill for these scenes were they lessened, or perhaps more interested, but bouncing the audience around so far in time in so short a period is a flashback too far.
But that’s all forgivable, because the thing that really makes this movie is the ending. The final scene in which Cheng’s heart breaks as she realises there is no such thing as the perfect home, and that all the money she’s saved, all the truly evil acts she’s raged to secure this apartment, have been for an ideal which never existed – and what’s truly extraordinary is that all these thoughts are shared with the audience through a single brief close-up on her face.
It’s a fitting close to Dream Home, a film which, like Cheng’s apartment, may not be perfect, but is certainly very desirable. An elegant, thoughtful flipside to the equally inventive but morally mindless American slashers; despite its copious violence, it may be Dream House‘s far-too-relatable warning of the all-engulfing credit crunch which remains its scariest moment of all.
Dream Home is out on DVD now – order it here