The Faith Of Anna Waters(2016)
- RatedNC16 /GenreHorror
Dubbed Singapore’s very first Hollywood movie, there has been a lot of anticipation since it was announced that this US-Singapore co-production will be written and directed by celebrated filmmaker Kelvin Tong, who makes his debut English movie after directing six other feature films that includes horror hits such as ‘The Maid’ and ‘Rule Number One’.
The Hollywood links however are limited. Besides the casting of Elizabeth Rice (from the ‘Mad Men’ series) and Matthew Settle (‘Gossip Girl’), the key ‘Hollywood’ elements in the film are mainly the financing; part of the film’s US$6 million budget (huge by local standards) came from the LA-based Highland Film Group and HK-Hollywood veteran Andre Morgan as executive producer.
Apart from that, almost everything else remains local. From the supporting cast primarily consisting of recognisable talents such as Adrian Pang, Jaymee Ong, Pamelyn Chee to the cameos by Tong’s theatre friends such as Janice Koh, Tan Kheng Hua, Crispin Chan, Daniel Jenkins. Off-screen, a local production crew and Tong's trusted long time collaborator Joe Ng does the music and sound design, and the entire film is shot in Singapore.
It has been more than four years since the success of Kelvin’s last homegrown feature ‘It’s A Great Great World’ (2011) which earned over S$2.5 million at the local box office. How will his return to horror and making a film in Singapore fair at the box office?
JUST TICKING THE HORROR CHECKLIST
The premise has a familiar tone to it. Lead character Jamie Waters travels over from the US to Singapore after learning of her sister’s Anna Waters death in an apparent suicide. Before long we are introduced to Anna’s ex-husband Sam (Matthew Settle) and their daughter Katie, who like Anna had also inherited Huntington’s Disease.
As Jamie and Sam dig deeper, information arises around a a rash of related violent suicides committed by people who knew Anna, plus strange occult happenings at the house which are gradually tormenting young Katie.
In a parallel storyline, Father Matthew Tan (Adrian Pang) and an older visiting priest James De Silva (Aussie actor Colin Borgonon) seem to have stumbled upon a cult conspiracy related to the biblical myth of The Tower of Babel.
Tong has said before that the script first came about as a writing exercise when he was based in Hong Kong, where he felt free to “write what he wanted to write”. Being a cinephile, it does seem that Tong is given free rein to indulge in his pleasures of employing almost every trick in the horror genre book, and paying homage to great horror classics such as ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The Omen’.
Innocent girl possessed by demon – checked. “End of Days” conspiracy – checked. Jaded priest losing his faith and tormented by guilt – checked. Girl spinning her head backwards – checked. Haunted house with old basement full of weird stuff – checked. Eerie looking doll – checked. The checklist ticking goes on endlessly, and despite some effective pacing and sound design to create the mood and anticipation for scares, ultimately the many generic elements resemble cliches and lack originality.
It also took too long before a direct connection is being established between the main storyline of Jamie’s investigation and the subplot of the two priests before it became rather contrived when the characters finally converge together.
TOO MANY SCARES, TOO LITTLE STORY
Another issue is that the film is jam packed with so many scary moments that there's little room for story and character development. The early set-up hinting of Jamie being plagued by fears of being sick is marred by a weak payoff towards the end.
The central theme about the fear of mortality, pain and suffering might have played out better had the script and direction been more focused on Jamie’s character rather than branching out into so many subplots and distractions.
The three lead actors playing Jamie, Sam and Katie are unconvincing in their roles as they are being rushed from one scary moment to the next, with barely a moment to catch a breath of introspection and drama.
Locations of Singapore’s cityscapes are reduced to perfunctory establishing shots, and the central location of the haunted mansion could have been any other haunted house on Rhode Island or Amityville, whitewashing any potential to have more authentic and involving Singapore elements in the film.
Most of the gore that earn the film its NC16 rating are delivered by the (#spoileralert) suicide scenes such as Tan Kheng Hua’s cameo character literally ripping out her own womb and guts, as well as another Crispin Chan’s character tearing out his own eyes - mere exercises in excessive gore designed to whet horror fans’ appetites.
Despite its faults, the movie may still prove to be commercially successful, especially with its North American release and international distribution in multiple territories, with a shorter generic title call ‘The Offering’.
For fans of Kelvin Tong who know his potential for depth in storytelling and writing, it is a disappointment to say the least, especially with the initial buzz surrounding the film and the budget and talents he has put together with Hollywood backing.
‘The Faith of Anna Waters’ opens in Singapore 12 May.