HUNGRY GHOST RITUAL (2014) short review

hungry-ghost-ritual-nick-cheung-annie-liu

Interestingly, Nick Cheung is already the third actor in two years to make a horror film for his debut as a director after Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis and Simon Yam’s segment in Tales from the Dark 1, with Carrie Ng’s upcoming Angel Whispers set to further that small trend. Here Nick Cheung plays Zong, a bankrupt publisher who comes home to Malaysia where his father (Lam Wai) owns an Opera troupe. His arrival provokes varying reactions, from outright hostility from his half-sister (Cathryn Lee) to sweet sympathy from the star performer (Annie Liu). But when his father is hospitalized, Zong is called upon to replace him temporarily as troupe director, even though he knows nothing of the traditions on the artform, least of all the rites to be performed as the Hungry Ghost Festival draws near, a midsummer period where spirits are particularly active and dangerous. Soon Zong is beset with unsettling visions and the troupe members start behaving more and more strangely, with the root of it all possibly buried in the past. Nick Cheung’s recipe for horror is a fairly transparent and derivative one : two parts carefully-CGIed phantasmagorical visions a la Pang brothers, one part white-clad, long-black-haired female ghosts reminiscent of Japanese horror, some Paranormal Activity-style surveillance camera scares thrown in for good measure, and a fairly random and underused reference to the real-life Elisa Lam case to top it off. To his credit, Cheung favors creeping terror over jump scares, and while never truly scary or fresh, his film is never boring and the Cantonese Opera angle is appealing. The actor/director’s dialed-down performance doesn’t exactly pull you in however, and the veterans steal the show : a heartfelt Lam Wai as his father, and especially the fiery Carrie Ng as an aging Opera star. **1/2

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