After living abroad for years, a young man returns home to Taiwan after inheriting the family home, a house built 70 years before but empty for the last 20 years. Moving in with his fiancé, they and their close friends begin experiencing strange things, including the fiends winding up in the house at midnight with no memory of how. Family secrets connected with the ghosts of dead children could be at the bottom of the goings-on, and the man's fiancé tracks down his only living relative for answers. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I know, I know. Here it is 2006, and who on planet earth is paying attention to Asian horror movies any more? I mean, haven't we all moved onto Spain or France or whoever is the new Korea already? Clearly, if the Asian Wave of Horror has washed itself down the drain, who could be left but a bunch of sixth-generation Sadako wannabees, right?
Actually, scrap all that. I have another theory. If J-Horror has truly gone stale, and no one is paying attention (or money) any longer, maybe the filmmakers still hanging around the soundstage are the true heroes--maybe those directors who continue to unapologetically explore the genre are the truly dedicated artists who believe there's still meat on them thar bones.
If this theory is true, that means "Zhaibian/The Heirloom" offers something to the genre that is decidedly different, new, convincing, or at least creative. And, ultimately, it does just that. More specifically, it creatively turns back the clock on horror films, and transports the viewer backwards in time to the glorious era of classy 1970s horror flicks that relied on plot turns, creepy settings, and characters. Although narratively the film shares next to nothing with American classics like "Rosemary's Baby," "The Changeling," or "Audrey Rose," I couldn't suppress the urge to make the comparison (repeatedly while watching). The problem is, I just couldn't put my finger on why. There's some ineffable quality about "The Heirloom"--maybe the photography, the color palette, the dilapidated mansion as setting, or the wistful music-- that kept me saying, "Jeez, this reminds me of The Omen more than the 2006 remake of The Omen."
I think there's no hiding the fact that this film is awash in that "ephemeral something" borrowed from those 70s classics; the director is clearly influenced by the era and style (even the lead women wear bell-bottoms rivaling those donned by Cristina Raines in "The Sentinel"). And allowing those influences to shine through is what I believe is so striking--and even risky--here. Again, I'll reference the recent remakes of so many genre classics--The Omen, The Amityville Horror, The Hills Have Eyes. What I often see in these remakes is not an understanding or embracing of 70s high-class horror style, but instead mere mimicry (often shot-for-shot). Who cares?
Of course, the flick has its faults--most prominently (at the 1 hour, 15 minute mark) the action slows to a melodramatic crawl with nonstop slo-mo panning shots of people and places, accompanied by sweeping violins. Unfortunately, the film never regains its pace before the end--but it's still eye-candy worth savoring.
Ultimately, seeing a film like "Zhaibian/The Heirloom" is like tripping upon some long lost 70s American horror classic I've never heard of. (It's just that the story is steeped in Buddhist tradition and is peopled by Asian actors, heh.) In so many intangible ways, it's like watching "The Manitou" or "Burnt Offerings" for the first time. For a director to achieve that kind of "seventies something-ness"--I applaud him roundly. On the other hand, I suppose many movie buffs (and especially younger horror buffs) would shrug off this 70s appropriation, saying "That's old stuff. It's out of date, out of step." But I wonder--will they be pining for "Hellraiser 6--straight to DVD" when they turn 40?
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