The ashes have settled, the town council people have cleared away the offerings and the annual Hungry Ghost Festival is now officially over but just over the horizon lies Halloween. Which means that for Singaporeans, it’s still spooky season. To get into the spirit of things, let’s take a look at three local movies that you can watch back-to-back to scare yourself silly.
Speaking of the Hungry Ghost Festival, this is something that features heavily in The Maid. Protagonist Rosa Dimaano (Alexandra de Rossi) arrives in Singapore during this inauspicious period, which foreshadows her entanglement with the supernatural in the not-so-distant future. Also starring in this movie are TV veterans Chen Shucheng and Hong Huifang, who play her elderly employers, Mr. and Mrs. Teo.
The horror unfolds layer by layer in this movie, like a sinister onion. Why is Rosa seeing ghosts? Does it have something to do with her sitting at the VIP row, meant only for ghosts, during a Seventh Month Concert? Why does Mr. and Mrs. Teo’s son (Benny Soh) also see ghosts? Who is that ghostly girl she keeps seeing around the house?
Director Kelvin Tong is careful to have the answers ready for you and reveal them snippet by snippet. Perhaps the scariest thing about The Maid is that no matter what Rosa does, she is trapped in a bad situation in Singapore. As a low-wage worker in a foreign country with a little brother who is critically ill and needs her remittance to pay his healthcare bills, she can’t quite just up and leave, no matter what. Rosa’s drive to solve the ghostly mysteries that plague her and it seems, the Teo family and in turn, help her family, make this movie shine.
Ever since I’ve watched Royston Tan’s 881, I’ve been a fan of Liu Lingling’s overflowing charisma. Here she plays a very different kind of character from The Goddess in 881. Subservient, dignified with an air of mystery, she plays Madam Seetoh, a supporting character with a key role.
The lead is played by TV actress Jesseca Liu, who plays Jia En, a young mother whose life takes a turn for the worse when she loses her young son, Xiao Le (Shawn Tan) and then tries to bring him back from the dead. Her husband, De Wei, is played by Taiwanese TV host and actor Jacko Chiang. This movie can be best described as a slow-burn creeper, that teases out the secrets and inner thoughts of its characters as it rolls along. It makes us ask questions like, is Jia En a reliable narrator? What is Madam Seetoh hiding? Will Jia En and De Wei’s relationship survive the death of their only child? And just whose soul has returned to Jia En – could it really be Xiao Le?
Not to be confused with Return To Pontianak (2001), which is a low budget Blair Witch inspired movie made by Singaporeans, Revenge of The Pontianak is no B movie. Although S$1.5 million may be peanuts for a Hollywood movie budget, it is a hefty budget for a Singaporean production, especially a horror production.
But this movie isn’t just any Singaporean production; with one Singaporean director (Glenn Goei) and one Malaysian director (Gavin Yap), it’s more of a cross-causeway production. Plus, the movie’s script was written in English but then translated to Malay by award-winning local playwright Alfian Sa’at.
In an interview with 8 Days, Glenn Goei tells us that Revenge of The Pontianak is really a love letter to the black-and-white Pontianak movies he used to see on TV as a kid. He also wanted to give the titular character, the Pontianak, something he felt the old-school Pontianak movies never did – a motivation to be the way she is. Indeed, there have been reviews that suggest that this is less of a horror movie and really more of a love story. I would argue instead, however, that it is a beautifully-shot character study of the Pontianak and a character-driven horror movie. Glenn Goei and Gavin Yap go to great lengths for the audience to develop reasons to root for the Pontianak, a character we’ve been taught since childhood to see as a one-dimensional evil creature. No mean feat there.
Since Halloween Horror Nights 2020 has been cancelled by the pandemic, maybe you could take this opportunity to queue up these movies and have a horror movie marathon with your friends! What movies do you think of when you think Singaporean horror movies? Were there any others you’d liked to see included in this article?