Director: Le-van Kiet
Cast: Lam Thanh My, Quang Tuan, Mai Cat Vi, Dieu Nhi, Le Be La
Runtime: 1 hr 41 mins
Rating: PG13 (Horror and Some Disturbing Scenes)
Released By: Clover Films and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 24 March 2022
Synopsis: After suffering a family tragedy, a widower named Thanh (Quang Tuan) moves his two daughters to a centuries-old ancestral home. Both daughters fall prey to sleep paralysis and night terrors. Their father seeks the help of a local psychologist, but chilling secrets and visions eventually prove that all is not what it seems in the old family house...
An intriguing premise and an atmospheric setting cannot quite save the Vietnamese horror ‘The Ancestral’ from humdrum, a disappointing misfire from writer-director Le-Van Kiet following the critical and commercial success of his martial arts actioner ‘Furie’. This isn’t Le’s first horror attempt, and though we had not seen his earlier work (a la ‘House in the Alley’), we had certainly expected at least coherence and purpose to the whole exercise in jump-scares and CGI-ed demons.
A prologue filmed through a camcorder and then through CCTV shows a woman and her baby traumatized by the strange behaviour of her grandmother, who apparently suffers from sleep paralysis and sleepwalks at night. Fast-forward to present day, where we learn the young Yen (Mai Cat Vi) is going through the same, awakening from a nightmare of her mother, whom we learn had recently passed away and is the reason why her father Thanh (Quang Tuan) has decided to abandon their previous house and move them into a centuries-old ancestral home.
It doesn’t take a cynic to scoff at the logic of that decision. How much good can moving the family to a creepy old house be for two daughters still reeling from the death of their mother? In fact, it isn’t even clear over the course of the film that the house belonged to the family, or if it is just some random house in a deserted village and without giving too much away, let’s just say when it is revealed late into the second act why Thanh had chosen to move the family to the house, it is as laughable and ridiculous a turn of events as can be.
As genre convention would have it, Yen’s sleep paralysis takes a turn for the worse; even during afternoon naps, she is caught in a trance-like state, unable to move her body as if something were holding her down. On the other hand, Yen’s older sister Linh (Lam Thanh My) sees a mysterious black figure in and around the house, and begins to fear that she might have inherited the same disease from her parents. Like we said before, it is never clear if it is both or neither, and Le’s failure to make clear whether these otherworldly figures are real or just imagination is downright frustrating.
Because we never know how much we should take it for real, Le’s unceasing effort at throwing something at his audience at a loud pitch is also simply annoying. As much as he may aspire to be, Le is no James Wan, and his ambition of adapting Wan’s style of long takes, slow push-ins and foreboding soundtrack culminating in unexpected scares is embarrassing to watch. It doesn’t help that the CGI is amateurish, such that we can never take what is meant to be scary for real.
So as unusual as the idea of a Vietnamese horror may be, and as intriguing as its premise may sound, ‘The Ancestral’ is best left avoided. There is little logic to its execution, and even less purpose to the scares, so all you’re left wondering at the end of it was what Le had even intended with it in the first place. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a solid Asian horror, and as much as we wanted to like it, ‘The Ancestral’ is a thorough letdown, even more so coming from a director like Le.
(An intriguing premise and an atmospheric setting cannot disguise an overall lack of coherence and purpose to this frustrating horror outing)
Review by Gabriel Chong