Always curious when a filmmaker comes from a different discipline or craft steps forward, following their dream and passion, hence that’s Giddens Ko, a novelist from Taiwan, with his second feature film, on the powerful subject of bullying. When it comes to this topic there’s plenty to choose from the dramatic Bully (2001) to the more obscure Fade to Black (1980), Death Note (2017), and The Final (2010), though one can’t overlook two Stephen King classics Christine (1983) and Carrie (1976), many carry dark themes that echo past the mere killings. Ko defines the meaner school children, how the educators’ side against the bullied, and build darker themes into story.
The movie opens with a creepy scene of two creatures feeding on an older man, clearly seen tearing his flesh with sheer bloodlust, they’re monsters to the viewers, but merely acting on their natural instincts. A sudden cut to Lin Shu-wei (Yu-kai Teng) dreads the school day because of his bullies, three of them lead by Ren-hao (Kent Tsai), [who does a wonderful job in the role] and his two cohorts aided by a very unhelpful teacher Ms Li (Carolyn Chen). All of them make his life a living hell on daily basis, however their latest prank fails miserably for everyone and they need to work with Lin Shu-wei on a community service program, meant more as a friend-bonding experience. While on their assignments they find a creature, it’s female and a tad shy and timid, they monster-napped and take her to a remote location, bounding her and making her suffer their cruelest torments. These painful scenes which has her aching and receiving cheerful enjoyment reminds one of Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011) and The Girl Next Door (2007). Lin Shu-wei joins in as he realizes she now replaces him as the hierarchy bullying and sadistic aspects, his anger to his tormentors now displaced on her. In addition, he knows if he does the honorable aspect and reaffirms his moral value rescuing this poor creature he returns to the lonely place filled with pain and suffering. His worries soon vanish as their captor older sister (Eugenie Liu), enters with razor teeth showing and quite more angered, prepared to settle the score of who’s the true bully. Ko generates plenty of psychical comedy complete with pratfalls and teen identifying humor, leading to vast blood loss working to keep tall the sequences entertaining, including the gymnasium scene.
Ko packs a lot into his film perhaps a tad too much, clocking in at nearly 2-hours, that’s far too much for the average horror film, yes there’s the exceptional ones that can hold the attention The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976), but sadly this flick overstays its presence. There’s a twisted sense of humor running through the film, and a scatter of good set pieces and concepts however they were strung closer together and hone a tad bit more, then this enters the realm of stellar horror. It becomes a chore to stay engaged with the plot especially in the second act, the final 15-minutes brings some pleasant moments for viewers.
Foreign horror seems more and more of an acquired taste, even one with dark coming of age tones, however it’s interesting to see how other nationalities deal with this subjective material. As previously mentioned the second act a tad troublesome, come from so many abrupt and sudden cuts, filter against various tones, makes it all a tad too confusing. Filmmakers new to craft are always trying cram more and more into a film, worried that they haven’t entertained the audience enough, however following the simple rule from Carpenter to Craven, tell the story in the straightest manner possible, fret not about the time rather the substance, allow the images to speak. Ko has the talent, just needs a little time refining his director skills, the storytelling only requires tweaks in the expressionism.
IMDb Rating: 5.9/10
Baron’s Rating: 5.0/10