Reviews

Movie reviews: The Faith Of Anna Waters doesn't sustain mood of creeping dread

In The Faith Of Anna Waters, Colin Borgonon (right) and Adrian Pang play Catholic priests who see signs of the apocalypse in the data streams of the Internet.
In The Faith Of Anna Waters, Colin Borgonon (right) and Adrian Pang play Catholic priests who see signs of the apocalypse in the data streams of the Internet. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
John Travolta (far left) and Christopher Meloni in the violent male fantasy I Am Wrath.
John Travolta (far left) and Christopher Meloni in the violent male fantasy I Am Wrath.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Singaporean film-maker Kelvin Tong's horror thriller about a reporter who hopes to uncover the truth behind her sister's death seems more like list-ticking than storytelling

Asia through the lens of Western horror cinema is a place of ancient curses, creepy temples, bizarre rituals; a place where inscrutable folk speak fluent fortune-cookie.

Singaporean film-maker Kelvin Tong turns that idea on its head in The Faith Of Anna Waters (NC16, 95 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars).  Here, Singapore is what it is in real life - a mix of old and new, East and West - and it's the Westerners who are exoticised.

Tong's screenplay is a fever dream comprising everything he loves about classic Hollywood horror, from the possession scares of The Exorcist (1973) to the end-of-days chills of The Omen (1976).

The story takes place in Singapore. Jamie Waters (Elizabeth Rice) is a crime reporter who comes to the island-state to look into the strange and untimely death of her sister, Anna. In another thread, Catholic priests James De Silva (Colin Borgonon) and Matthew Tan (Adrian Pang) see signs of the apocalypse in the data streams of the Internet.

Jamie, aided by Anna's estranged husband Sam (Matthew Settle), finds clues to Anna's death scattered around the island, especially in an old bungalow, home to Anna's daughter Katie (Adina Herz).

Whew. There is a lot of plot to get through, along with a correspondingly large cast. This is because the haunted-house story is joined by one about demonic possession and, later, by a clue-hunt surrounding the coming of the end of the world.

The speed at which exposition flies at the audience means not much is allowed to get under your skin. There are a few scares to be found in the old black-and-white bungalow, in the shrubs surrounding it and in its museum-like collection of bric-a-brac.

But the mood of creeping dread is never sustained because of Tong's need to roam the city, packing in things that explain why God might be leaving the stadium to allow the next act to take control of the mike.

Tong's fanboy enthusiasm can create effective moments, such as the ones in which Katie spies something across the garden from her bedroom window, or when Sam goes rummaging in the old house's basement. But the accumulation of just-so factoids and homages to vintage horror make the enterprise seem more like list-ticking than proper storytelling.

Speaking of checkbox-ticking cinema, here comes I Am Wrath (NC16, 91 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2/5 stars), a violent male fantasy in which a broken America is fixed by a guy from outside the justice system, armed with a sense of purpose and a variety of assault weapons. He does this while crowned with abnormally vibrant hair. This is the Donald Trump of movies.

John Travolta's flat-lining career was resuscitated with an Oscar-nominated performance in Pulp Fiction (1994), but the trajectory has been anything but upward since then. This action thriller gives weight to the idea that he has trouble telling gold from dross.

There is not much here that you have not seen in a million other disposable revenge movies about a law-abiding citizen who, after his wife is killed by scum, turns out to possess "skills", as Liam Neeson puts it in the Taken films.

In an underground carpark, engineer Stanley Hill (Travolta) sees wife Vivian (Rebecca De Mornay) murdered by thugs. Frustrated by police incompetence, he turns vigilante, with the help of buddy Dennis (Christopher Meloni).

What follows is an efficient if uninspired run of mayhem that usually calls for the talents of an actor like Neeson or Nicolas Cage (who was indeed attached to the project at one point).

Director Chuck Russell (The Scorpion King, 2002) adds flair by giving Travolta's and Meloni's characters some buddy-movie bickering, but the effort seems wasted in what is otherwise a completely perfunctory affair.   

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'Feverish mix of Singapore old and new'. Print Edition | Subscribe