THE HOUSE THAT NEVER DIES II (2017) review

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Three years after Raymond Yip’s The House that never dies became the highest-grossing Chinese horror film, comes this Gordon Chan-produced sequel, featuring a different cast and a new set of characters, but still taking place at N°81 Chanoei in Beijing, a famous mansion believed to be haunted. This time, engineer Song Teng (Julian Cheung) is working on restoring the old mansion, while neglecting his wife He (Mei Ting), a doctor. The couple has grown estranged following the stillbirth of their child five years before, and Song’s apparent reciprocal fondness for his assistant (Gillian Chung) isn’t helping matters. In an attempt to solidify their marriage, He moves in with her husband in the old house, but soon she is plagued by visions and nightmares, that appear to be memories of a past life: at the beginning of the 20th century, a general (Julian Cheung) who lived in this mansion had to marry the daughter (Gillian Chung) of a warlord, to solidify an alliance and to ensure he would have an heir, after his first wife (Mei Ting) failed to beget him one. But the general’s affections were still for his first wife, and his new bride proved barren as well. And deadly jealous.

Having so far specialized in grimy, gnarly, and/or offbeat atmospheres, Joe Chien directs, with The House that never dies II, his most classical – and classy – horror film. Though perhaps a notch below the first film in terms of visuals, it nevertheless pleases the eyes with shadowy visions of secret crypts, old manuscripts and cobwebbed labs full of specimen jars, not to mention Warlords-era Beijing at its most doom-ladden. Nothing new here, but always a pleasure. The script, however, does not deserve such solid production values. As always in Mainland Chinese horror, all supernatural elements end up being explained away perfunctorily as dreams or hallucinations at the end of the film (for censorship reasons), despite making up the bulk of the film’s plot and scares. The film often resorts to the most trite of jump scares – a deplorable feature of most modern horror films – and features that old cliché of the estranged couple (sometimes a troubled family) brought closer together by the ghost of a past tragedy still haunting a great big house in which no one in their right mind would be comfortable spending even one single night.

The past tragedy in question, though kept a bit perfunctory by the film’s short runtime, is reasonably entertaining, but it is tied with the modern-day storyline so tenuously, that casting the same actors for both time periods appears more as cost-cutting ploy that any clever or deep twist on reincarnation or parallelism. And the film truly crumbles in its last act, with dodgy CGI and the aforementioned censorship-placating explanations. The all-too-rare (on the big screen at least) Mei Ting, is a fiercely sympathetic lead who would have deserved a meatier role in which to sink her teeth and a more involved partner than Julian Cheung, who sleepwalks through his role. Welcome cameos from Vivian Wu, Joan Chen, Andrew Lin, Jack Kao and Lam Suet add to the production’s often classy feel, but Gillian Chung is simply too bland for her role, which would have required much more fire. Geng Le is quite good as a sinister physician, but his role seems left over from a longer, more involving cut of the film.

Long Story Short: Despite good production values and a fine lead, The House that never dies II suffers from an awkward script and trite attempts at scares. **

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