Movie review: 23:59 The Haunting Hour could have been a great M18 movie, too bad it's PG13

There is a creator, not listed in the notes, that should get as much credit as any screenwriter or director: The Singapore film classification system.
There is a creator, not listed in the notes, that should get as much credit as any screenwriter or director: The Singapore film classification system.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

The story: In the present day, Tommy (Fabian Loo) is serving national service but on weekends, he posts horror stories on his blog. He writes about how, in 1967, two recruits (Noah Yap and Eric Lee) awaken a dark force from World War II, with horrific consequences. In another story, he tells a tale from the 1980s, in which a commando leader (Mark Lee) comes back from overseas jungle training with a vengeful animal spirit in tow. In the final story, Tommy finds that in the real world, social media contains monsters as dangerous as any that exist in the realm of fiction. This is a follow-up, containing a set of new stories, to 23:59 (2011).

There is a creator, not listed in the notes, that should get as much credit as any screenwriter or director: The Singapore film classification system.

The struggle to make a film filled with frights, yet not so frightful as to earn the dreaded income-slashing NC16 or M18 rating, is the invisible hand that shaped this, and it seems every mainstream work of Singa-horror.

The result is this uniquely local product, a mildly fear-inducing story that moves into equally mild raunch whenever it has moments to fill.

Producer Eric Khoo says the horror-comedy fusion pays homage to Hong Kong classics that are saucy and scary, but those movies go to adult-oriented places that this one does not.

The PG13 rating here means more tell, and less show. In the tragically brief first tale, for example, the recruits who wake a creature from its eternal rest reap the deadly karma - much of it, off camera.

The abruptness of the ending in what had been a white-knuckle chase feels like a slap-in-the-face anticlimax.

Now, censors will say that film-makers are free to make movies as they like, then get it rated appropriately, but the retort of artists has been that for films aimed at the local market, razor-thin margins make the effort uneconomical unless it caters to the widest possible audience.

The result is films that play it safe, such as this one, created with one foot shackled to the post of the ratings decision.

There are tantalising glimpses of the trash-cinema aesthetic that director Gilbert Chan wants to evoke, such as the zombie-cannibal thread of the 1967 story, or the man-eating succubus format of the 1980s tale.

Again, a lot of it is tease, with the payoffs shown in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it format. The whole thing feels like a trailer for a longer film.

While somewhat redeemed by its last story, which warns us that often, the stranger you are sexting with might want something more than a steamy chat, the most frightening thing about this horror movie is the wasted potential.

Opens: Thursday (Aug 9)

Duration: 89 minutes

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5