Saturday, December 10, 2011

DVD Review: HAUNTED CHANGI (2010)

HAUNTED CHANGI (2010)
Label: MVD Visual
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 81 minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Andrew Lau
Cast: Farid Azlam, Sheena Chung, Audi Khalis, Andrew Lau

I gotta say that the found-footage and faux-documentary films still seem to have some bite left to 'em, from THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, REC., TROLLHUNTER (review HERE), THE LAST EXORCISM on through to the wildly successful PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and it's two sequels theatre goers are still jammin' the multiplexes to get their fix of found footage frights. Away from the theatres we have a plethora of indie direct-to-DVD entries too; from EVIL THINGS (review HERE) to PARANORMAL ENTITY, it's a sure sign of pop culture success when The Asylum cranks out a copycat film. That said, despite the continued demand and the sub-genre's success I do tend to elicit a low groan whenever I hear of a new entry, such as the rumored sequel to the FRIDAY THE 13th re-imagining, fuck me, say it ain't so. So, when I first opened up a package from MVD containing HAUNTED CHANGI I can't say that I was enthused at the prospect of it's value based on it's rather lame artwork, but 81 minutes later and a few beers in I was pleasantly surprised by what the film had to offer.  

The story goes something like this; in January of 2010 a group of local young filmmakers began exploring the famously haunted Old Changi Hospital in Singapore with terrifying and tragic results. What we see in the film are pieces edited together from the original Haunted Changi film crew's footage to tell their tragic story. It's pretty simple stuff. First up we meet our documentary crew; the director Andrew, cameraman Audi, producer Sheena and soundman Farid, all pretty likable folks. The four announce that they are setting out to document one of the most notoriously haunted places in all the world, the aforementioned Changi Hospital in Singapore. The property is a series of buildings left abandoned since the 1990's when the hospital was decommissioned. The hospital has a dark and disturbing history beginning during WWII when the location was used by the Japanese to torture and kill hordes of enemy Chinese and British combatants, after the war the property was re-purposed as a military hospital treating ill and wounded soldiers. Now two decades after being decommissioned the structure is said to be haunted by the legions of souls who met their fate there. It's an eerie place for sure and it brought to my mind the sanitarium from Brad Anderson's masterful SESSION 9, a labyrinthine decaying urban enviorment coated in graffiti art, thick with atmosphere and steeped in creep factor.

In a nice expository maneuver the film dumps some vintage newsreel footage on us to explain the location's history, a few man on the street type interviews with the citizens of Singapore to set-up it's reputation as a place of supernatural activity and then we get to some footage from within the hospital captured by our crew that's rife with the expected variations on the found-footage aesthetic we've come to expect; night vision, creepy darkened hallways, eerie shadows and spooked filmmakers running scared through corridors. Not a ton of originality here; it's definitely BLAIR WITCH meets SESSION 9 with some cool j-horror elements but it works and is a pretty effective little chiller that raised the hairs on my neck more than a few times.

There's a fun bit during the film when the Singapore contingent of Ghost Hunters shows up to aide the documentarians but are scared off the property by some headless apparitions that appear on a thermal cam, this is very much what I think would happen if any of these "ghost hunters" on TV ever really encountered anything more than each other making random fart noises in darkened spaces.

The slow build-up of the film is quite effective, well-paced and satisfactorily spooky. Andrew, the director of the documentary, increasingly becomes obsessed with the location, returning on his own to meet-up with a mysterious woman all the while becoming sickly ill. Meanwhile, Sheena becomes more and more unhinged by the place after an eerie, shadowy encounter that leaves her physically sick and unwilling to return to the location. The film's shortcomings for me include questionable actions on the part of the crew, it's the rare found-footage film that doesn't irk me that way, motivations and actions are oftentimes preposterous. Also, while the film's finale is pretty chilling it doesn't quite live up to the dread and suspense of the first two thirds of the film, but  it's still a pretty effective chiller and a nice found-footage exercise that should please fans of eerie supernatural thrillers and found-footage films.

DVD: The film is presented in 16:9 widescreen (1.85:1) and looks pretty good for a hand-held shaky cam flick, it's not completely hand-held but it's well in line with what we've come to expect from a found footage/faux-documentary  narrative film. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds pretty good to with some nice use of the surrounds to accentuate the film's creepier elements, good stuff. The English subtitles are optional but I found I kind of needed 'em on what with the actors thick accents, not a criticism just a fact.

The film comes with a nice selection of bonus content; the first being that this DVD features "enhanced footage"not seen during it's theatrical run, three text chapters from a book written by a character from the film, more of the archival WWII footage seen in the film and an easter egg with some behind-the-scenes footage.

Verdict: Not the final nail in the coffin of found-footage film by any means, this is a fine low-budget supernatural chiller, very well done and worth a watch. It may not be a classic of the genre but it's a good watch on a Friday night. 3 outta 5


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