Director: Kelvin Tong
Cast: Elizabeth Rice, Matthew Settle, Adina Herz, Colin Borgonon, Adrian Pang, Jaymeee Ong, Pamelyn Chee, Paul Lucas, Victoria Mintey, Gus Donald
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Horror)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 12 May 2016
Synopsis: Tenacious journalist Jamie Waters travels from Seattle to Singapore to investigate the mysterious suicide of her older sister Anna. Inexplicable events at Anna’s new house and the odd behaviour of her daughter Katie lead Jamie to a string of bizarre suicides involving strange allusions to the Tower of Babel. The supernatural forces arrayed against Jamie intensify when she receives emails from the dead Anna. With the help of her sister’s former husband Sam, Jamie races to solve the mystery of Anna’s death as demonic forces attack Katie and evidence mounts of the Tower of Babel rising once again – in the form of the Internet.
Rather than wait for Hollywood to knock on our doors, Singapore’s very own Kelvin Tong has decided to show them that we have seen enough classic Tinseltown horror to make one of our very own. Or at least that seems to be his plan, based on his derivative but modestly effective ‘The Faith of Anna Waters’ – otherwise known as ‘The Offering’. Indeed, rather than serving up something original, Tong borrows ideas and even entire scenes from notable genre offerings such as ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Omen’ and ‘The Conjuring’ to piece together an exorcism thriller that has a Leviathan take possession of a young girl while attempting to resurrect the biblical Tower of Babel via binary code.
If that one-line description made you go ‘what’, know that you are not alone. Tong, who also wrote the film, throws everything but the kitchen sink into a convoluted plot that begins with the suicide of one Anna Waters afflicted with Huntington’s disease and weaves its way through a haunted colonial mansion, devilish anagrams, demonic code and a test of faith for a veteran priest disillusioned by the last rite of exorcism which he performed in Bali ten years ago. Oh yes, there is so much story here that it unfolds largely as two separate narrative tracks – the first led by Chicago-based journalist Jamie Waters (Elizabeth Rice) who travels to Singapore to investigate her suspicion that her sister’s death wasn’t just suicide, and the second led by two Catholic priests (Colin Borgonon and Adrian Pang) who uncover the Leviathan’s unholy plan using the Internet.
Only before the concluding exorcism sequence does Jamie meet Father De Silva (Borgonon), who will show up in the nick of time to save Anna’s estranged husband Sam (Matthew Settle) from committing suicide and thereafter perform the rite to chase the demon away from inside Anna’s daughter Katie (Adina Herz). Just that sequence alone is proof of how Tong seems to be grabbing familiar elements from other better movies – not only does the exorcism take place in the basement like ‘The Conjuring’, the victim does a 180-degree head-spinning effect straight out of ‘The Exorcist’. It still is unnerving all right, but there’s no denying how much it underscores the overarching derivativeness of the entire enterprise, which also ends up undermining the mood of creeping dread that Tong tries assiduously to build throughout its one-half-hour duration.
Fortunately, Tong proves a better director than writer, with at least a few good scares even for the most seasoned viewer. One of the creepiest images is that of a teddy bear bouncing up and down on a trampoline, followed swiftly by that of garments being ripped off an outdoor clothesline by a child-like apparition. Equally effective is a pitch-black deep-sea diving-suit helmet which Jamie first spies in the basement, and which suddenly appears in the living room one day when her colleague Marjorie (Jaymee Ong) comes over to babysit. Within his principal location of a black-and-white bungalow in Stevens Road, Tong constructs a couple of sinister sequences, such as one where Katie encounters the ghosts of a mother and son killed by their husband/ father who first tried to resurrect the Leviathan decades ago and another where the Leviathan sends Katie levitating while seated on her bed. With the help of Wade Muller’s cinematography, Tong largely succeeds in achieving the Gothic feel of period horror fare like ‘The Woman in Black’ right here in Singapore, and it speaks of his competence as a visual stylist that it is quite vastly different than that which he pulled off in ‘The Maid’.
Yet that low-profile horror feels like a more assured piece of filmmaking than ‘The Faith of Anna Waters’, which despite some good atmosphere and slick scares, feels too familiar and uninspired. In particular, Tong’s muddled storytelling and lack of character definition makes his Hollywood film no more than generic genre fare, which is no wonder it is getting only a very limited release in the States. Ironically, it also proves too Westernised for the local audience to truly embrace it as a film made in Singapore, especially since recognisable faces like Pang, Tan Kheng Hua and Janice Koh are relegated to supporting or bit roles. It won’t make you lose faith in Singapore cinema that’s for sure, but maybe just a little in Tong himself.
(Kelvin Tong's filmed-in-Singapore Hollywood film is a modestly effective exorcism thriller that is nonetheless too derivative for its own good)
Review by Gabriel Chong