Movie review: Afterimages features chilling old-school spooks

 Local model-actress Melissa Faith Yeo stars in local production Afterimages as Amy Tan, who witnesses a suicide and takes a photo of the victim. -- PHOTO: MYTHOPOLIS PICTURES AND CATHAY-KERIS FILMS
 Local model-actress Melissa Faith Yeo stars in local production Afterimages as Amy Tan, who witnesses a suicide and takes a photo of the victim. -- PHOTO: MYTHOPOLIS PICTURES AND CATHAY-KERIS FILMS

Review Horror

AFTERIMAGES (NC16)

92 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***1/2

The story: This compendium of five horror tales starts with a group of film students taking a dangerous shortcut - they burn offerings to the underworld and in return, they receive videos of a horrific nature. In the first video, they see a ripped-from-the-headlines story of a sexy China girl found drowned in a condo pool. As more videos containing creepy contents appear, the students realise that there is a price to be paid for making the dead produce your films.

Singapore-based American film-maker Tony Kern makes movies that put chills down spines - not just of those in the audience, but also for local film investors looking on.

The horror genre might be considered a safe commercial bet, but the language choice here is not. Kern is the only artist here who still makes English-language films for mainstream release.

Excluding international productions shot here, domestically made English- language commercial cinema has largely died out, killed by poor box office. It will not be until next year that the next major English work, Cathay's 80th anniversary project Our Sister Mambo, will appear.

Writer-director and co-producer Kern arrives at this point after two previous features, both in the horror genre, the documentary A Month Of Hungry Ghosts (2008) and Haunted Changi (2010).

The spooky special effects in Afterimages, both practical (make-up and prosthetics) and computer-generated, are ambitious, risk-taking and, on the whole, a success. This is a milestone achievement, especially for a small production house such as Kern's and Genevieve Woo's Mythopolis Pictures. With a couple of exceptions, local films have been plagued by weak or cheesy practical and computer-generated effects.

The other remarkable trait here is that this work has the courage of its own horror convictions - the beasties, gore and other creep-inducing visuals in this NC16-rated work are clearly visible.

This is a welcome change from the frustration-inducing horror-lite made for the sake of lowering the age restriction to a more lucrative PG13. If you want to experience old-school body-parts scares that fall short of total gore, you will get your money's worth. Although there are a couple of false notes - the camera lingers too long on a foaming-mouthed security guard in a scene, for example - the story's structure is sound and the pace never flags.

The flow between the vague dread of the supernatural elements and the sharp shocks of the gorier scenes could also have been smoother, but the transitional flaws are minor.

The good work is undermined by shaky acting from younger, more inexperienced cast members, while the more seasoned ones, such as Vincent Tee, Mike Kasem, Susan Tordoff and Daniel Jenkins, put on assured performances that let the viewer relax and follow the story, rather than take him out of it.