One market strangely absent within the Asian horror wave is Hong Kong. While they have one of the most flourishing film markets in Asia, their output of horror films has been especially meager. And while most countries have their own style of horror to display, the horror films that do come from the Hong Kong market have very little stylistic characteristics in common. Nonetheless, there are still some titles worth checking out. One of them is Ng's The House.
The premise of the film is extremely simple. After the death of her husband, woman and child have to find a new place to stay. Her income is small and they don't have much in the way of luxury, so they take first suitable location they come across. The house, of course, is haunted (why else would you call your film "The House"). And so starts another haunted house film. There are a few dramatic additions, with a former friend of her husband popping up from time to time. They help to flesh out a pretty meager storyline, but don't add much to the film itself.
Thematically The House plays very much like a Korean horror film. Even though the main goal of the film is to creep out the audience, it is also made to work just as well on a dramatic level. The screen time is evenly spread between tension building and dramatic exploration of the characters, though the combination of both elements remains somewhat of an acquired taste. Not everyone appreciates ghosts with a dramatic, even traumatic background, made to raise sympathy for their actions.
Stylistically though, it's quite the opposite of typical Korean horror fare (or Japanese horror flicks for that matter). Rather than serve bombastic melodrama with a severe classical soundtrack, The House is almost a typical arthouse endeavor. The pacing is extremely slow, the music more toned down and the camera mostly observing. There are many static shots, or scenes where the camera seems to float ever so slowly through the little apartment. In that sense, it's a lot closer to the Chinese horror film, but it does feel like a welcome diversion from most other horror films.
The use of color also reminded me of Chinese arthouse, with lots of gritty greens and cold blues. It makes the film very pleasant to watch and adds a thin gritty layer on an otherwise very polished interior. The soundtrack too is pretty nice, although it can be a bit overpowering from time to time. Still, the switches between drama and horror are well-timed and well guided by the music, making both segments work by themselves.
The House is not the most chilling film ever made, nor the most touching. But it is a very well made horror flick, sporting absolutely lush photography, a very nice soundtrack, awesome sets and a simple but effective story. It doesn't succeed in giving Hong-Kong its own horror facade, but if you're looking for overlooked films of the Asian suspense wave, this one is a definite recommendation.