SEPTEMBER 9 ― One of the reasons why horror remains a fertile genre, with a seemingly endless list of subgenres within it, is because it preys on the audience’s fears and because there’s a similarly endless list of fears.
Some fears are more exaggerated or fantastical compared to others, like fear of ghosts vs. fear of heights or tight places. But still, fear is fear and the person feeling them would still be feeling it regardless of what you may think about it.
Now that we live in the age of budget airlines and the price wars that result from them, I think it’s pretty safe to say that a lot of us know first-hand the fears of being a tourist in a foreign country or simply being a foreigner working or studying in a foreign land.
Maybe it’s because of how increasingly common this feeling has become that we’ve seen a spike in a subgenre that some of us call “tourist horror” or “foreigner horror” movies, the most prominent ones of course being the Hostel films, Turistas and The Ruins.
Dig deeper and you’ll find foreigner horror flicks like The Other Side Of The Door, They’re Watching, both The Dead films and foreigner thrillers like No Escape and River, not to mention last year’s standout genre flick The Shallows, which can technically still be fit in within this subgenre.
The archetype for the protagonists of these movies has more often than not been the stereotypical loud and obnoxious American (sometimes British, but most definitely white) tourist who usually have an often shocking disrespect for local culture and customs, and who often thinks that money can buy them anything.
That of course sets things up perfectly for their comeuppance, which is par for the course in films of this kind.
Another big reason for the increasing appearance of this kind of films is how cheap they actually are to make, especially when your currency is the US dollar, the Euro or the British Pound compared to the much weaker and lower Asian currencies here.
For some indie film-makers working within the low to no-budget zone, they can even come to a South-east Asian country with their small cameras and just shoot something here, almost like a part holiday-part film-making thing.
About two weeks ago a tourist horror flick opened in Malaysian cinemas to not much fanfare since it opened around the same time as Annabelle: Creation, and this week I saw another new one, so I thought why not pair them up and see how they compare with each other?
Despite quite obviously being the lower budgeted of the two films I’m writing about here, this Thailand set film about an American couple going on a holiday in Bangkok turned out to be a pretty watchable thrill ride from start to finish.
It clearly has not much of a budget for fancy post-production and colour correction, with its cinematography looking fairly flat and way too digital, but it makes up for its cheap look and barely passable special effects with a pretty relentless pace in its storytelling.
Horror films are often guilty of taking forever to arrive at the good stuff, but that is not an accusation that you can throw at this film as director Rich Ragsdale takes just about 20 minutes to get the plot rolling, and even those 20 minutes were pretty eventful as the protagonists Jim and Julie were pointed to a ghost house by their tour guide, a ghost house being a small shrine placed outside of dwellings for ghosts to inhabit so that they’ll leave the main homes alone.
Julie, who is an amateur photographer, of course develops a fascination with these ghost houses and a series of escalating bad decisions (what else would you do when you’re a drunk tourist?) will leave Jim in a race against time to save Julie from being devoured forever by the spirit world, with a moral choice that needs to be made that will instantly remind you of Drag Me To Hell.
Forget the dumb and bad decisions, that’s why these films exist anyway, but what one really should ask is whether the scares are good and imaginative, to which the answer is surprisingly yes for the most part.
In fact, this is more or less like a Thailand set version of Drag Me To Hell but without that film’s trademark humour, with the local colour giving it enough energy (and fascination, since we’re not familiar with a lot of it) to make it a fun enough watch even for a seasoned horror fan.
If some people think that Ghost House is a missed opportunity, then Temple is something like an own goal, seeing that it at least has much slicker production values, with the film’s technical aspects looking way more proper and expensive.
What it sorely lacks is energy, since the story is as by-the-numbers as Ghost House’s was. Telling the story of three Americans on a holiday in Japan, the evil here comes in the form of an old temple, which the three Americans went to anyway because one of them of course wants to go there and photograph it.
It’s one thing to have a typical story, but it’s even more unforgivable when you tell it in the most typical and boring way possible, taking almost 50 minutes to get to the good stuff when the whole movie is only about 80 minutes long anyway, and even when the good stuff arrives it is executed in a way that can only be described as pedestrian and lethargic.
It’s a shame because Temple clearly has the better actors, better cinematography and even a proven horror writer in Simon Barrett (a comrade of Adam Wingard with films like The Guest, You’re Next and Blair Witch on his resume) and yet what we got here is a film that practically begs to be left alone in a forgotten storage space somewhere.
It really is that uninspiring.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.