Review - Dissecting the Scares in 'Afterimages' by Tony Kern
'Afterimages', a local horror film from the makers of 'Haunted Changi', has opened islandwide. It promises a kaleidoscope of scare with its 5 mini stories. SINdie writers Jeremy Sing and Joseline Yu dissect them and discuss the hits and misses of these scares in 'Afterimages'.
Jeremy Sing is the editor of SINdie and Joseline is a final year English Literature student at NTU.
Jeremy: Hey Joseline, sorry I almost left you sitting alone in the cinema, thinking you were not afraid of horror but to my surprise you are. So...... any 'afterimage' after watching 'Afterimages?’
Joseline: Some of the gorier parts did made me resort to your suggested method of only peering at the screen. But to be honest, the more interesting bits are the ones free of blood and impending violence. Shall we dissect the scares we remember the most, both the gruesome and non-gruesome ones?
Jeremy: Oh! Did the peering at the screen work? Would love to know! Lol. It always works for me because you fear it yet you want to watch a bit of it.
Joseline: It made the viewing more bearable, and afterwards I didn't really feel like I missed much since I know that basically bloods will spurt, mutilation will happen etc. Even viewers who don't come for the visual violence can still be interested in watching horror films if only for the narrative. As long as the violence isn’t the plot point itself, not fully taking in it isn't that detrimental to the experience.
Still, not to detract the enjoyment of those who watch horror for those kind of scenes and the people who make them...where else to enjoy gratuitous violence, if not in horror films?
Jeremy: Haha. Some logic there. And yes, I think as much as creating an arresting story, many horror filmmakers love to create scares, an exercise sometimes totally separate from the story. I have seen the director Tony's previous works. And yes, despite him being an American, he has a wide vocabulary of Singaporean tales from the dark. But of course, whether he knows to milk them to the best effect is another question. So yes let’s examine the scares.
The first scene that spooked me was actually not a scare. In story one, Ghost Pool Leg, the pervert has his telescopic view of this lady across the block who had just emerged from the shower. The blurriness of it and the unsuspecting nature of that moment actually made it a bit spooky. I felt like, perhaps the director has something up his sleeves in this scene.
Maybe its because when I was younger, I also sometimes was curious at night and would use my binoculars. (by the way.... curious in a general sense haha!)
Joseline: Aha! Most people nowadays would keep their curtains tightly drawn though, since estates nowadays are packed closer than ever. I didn't really think much about the expat being a pervert...but on second thought the shot did set up a sort of transition from the blurriness of the naked woman to the dripping lady swimmer, as if some erotic link is established. Feminine beauty or desirability is often presented as a precursor to violence in this film, but we can delve into that later on.
Speaking of the unexpected, I was pleasantly surprised that the security guard caricature turned out to be a ghost himself!
Jeremy: Actually that got me a little confused at first. Maybe it is because his emergence as a ghost was shadowed by the frenzy that was happening in the water. Your eyes are on the woman and what surprises she will unleash on the pervert. Otherwise, the passer-by ghost warner being also a ghost himself is quite common in the horror formula.
Joseline: I think I saw the actor before playing the same kind of stock character, perhaps even in a TV drama. So do you think that the ghost of the woman and the security guard will move on in peace once they have sacrificed the pervert?
Jeremy: Actually this is where I would mention a fundamental flaw in the whole movie 'Afterimages' - the lack of a substantial back story. The movie concentrated too much on the scares and tactics, it tends to neglect the most important part of horror, the context and background. We know nothing about why the girl drowned in the swimming pool and we care even less about the security guard. So whether they move on after sacrificing the pervert or not, is inconsequential to me.
Joseline: Yeah, and what's there to lose with the pervert drowning? Anyway, since there are 5 films, we can excuse this one as those of the quickly made B-genre. The film wants us to not take this one so seriously too as shown by the meta discussion of the students in the frame story regarding the ambiguous ending. The next film though, about the suicide, incorporates context and background. Do you think it makes the central character more sympathetic in any way?
Jeremy: Yes, I think so. And strangely, the scares and moments and details in this filmlet were more meticulously executed. And when I say details, one example I am referring to is the girl trying to delete the photos she had taken, which contain that of the girl who just jumped. I think if I were her and for no scientific reason, I get an error message about being unable to delete, I would leap off my chair!
Joseline: Indeed. I nearly expected her to try to burn her phone and CPU, but that would be more painful than horrifying. Why the neat ending for this one, though? I'm guessing from the sepia tone that it might be meant to replicate a student film, and those tend to end with closure.
Jeremy: Hahaha you just insulted student films! But good point on the neat ending, which was different from all the other films.
Joseline: Noo...I was not! Just said that it looked like one >__<
In contrast to the first film, this one has an underlying message to it, that the dead haunts the living for a specific reason and not just for spooks.
Jeremy: Personally, I quite like the subtle touch in this closure. It was literally touch and go. If you blinked an eye you would have missed that closure moment. So, yes I agree with you.
Joseline: We can even read a bit of character development to the central character as she got over her own fear and find out more about her ghostly tormentor's previous life. As the film ends with it teaching us something, I guess this can be another way in which we can consider it as a student film in spirit.
Jeremy: Any other memorable moments or scares for you in this filmlet?
Joseline: For a moment I was scared that something terrible will happen to the cats! Thankfully, they were left alone.
Jeremy: Are you a cat lover?
Joseline: Yes! As of late I've even warmed up to black cats...it's not their fault that certain cultures perceive them as ominous symbols due to the coat colour they are born with.
Jeremy: I see. That reminds me of a recent news I saw in which a cat was thrown down the flat. The newspaper photo showed a pool of blood. Same predicament as the girl in the story, different body weight. Which also reminds me the split second moment when we saw some black and heavy thing just drop across the screen, partly shrouded by the curtains, a pretty scary moment.
Joseline: Yeah, now I wish we hadn't seen the mutilated corpse so that will be the image of the dead woman that will stick with us.
Jeremy: Haha. Afterimage. That's what it is! Remember the opening scene?
Joseline: Yeah, with the reference to Hamlet that went nowhere. That was effective because it relied on putting the audience in the students' place, in which they are required to use their imagination to see the invisible.
Jeremy: I loved that scene and the idea. I generally like simple ideas with huge extensions and I felt the simple close-up shot of the skull prolonged had a very unsettling effect on me. For one, of course, there was this nagging suspicion that there would be some scare in ambush waiting to emerge. But the idea also outlives the duration of the visual because it's like being transplanted into your brain and it germinates on its own.
Joseline: Exactly...straightforwardly scaring the audience would make the viewing experience more passive. It's like the opening scene gets the audience to scare themselves.
Within the confined space of the 3rd film, the one in the elevator, do you think it's still possible to direct it in such a way that the audience still has room (pun unintended) to exercise their imagination?
Jeremy: Yes, but I think to achieve that, the effort is more in the scripting. So many ways you can make an elevator spooky. Actually, what's even better, is if the director can play up more the unknown and unseen. Make the characters in the lift panic about something that will not even rear its face in the film. But alas, the one and only scare in the film was very literal and flat. What do you think?
Joseline: Indeed...I did not need to see a woman cut her face open nor did the film make me want to. The twist of her being a zombie all along took away most of the sympathy I had for her as well.
Jeremy: So was there anything in the 3rd film that spooked you at all?
Joseline: At one point, one of the male characters started filming the conflict in the elevator with his phone and the events being filtered through the grainy screen made me feel like there's something else in there with them. However, he was so unessential to the story that I can't even be sure if this happened.
Jeremy: Hahaha. I dont even recall this portion. For me the only scary moment was this particular shot of the lift. It was an infinity reflection shot of the mirrored interiors of the lift and it seemed like there was a message in that shot or something I could spot.But..... not important it seems. Moving on, the fourth film should be quite interesting to discuss. What spooked you and what didn't?
Joseline: Spooked me: Everything to do with the hawker's friend until the twist of the hawker's repressed memory. What didn't: Everything to do with lady's fingers... It's like...an increased preference for the food happened to coincide with the chopping of literal lady's fingers. It would be more relevant if the hawker is a seller of lady's fingers, or if the food is the thing to jog his memory instead of the ring.
Jeremy: I was like, trying to jog my memory if chicken rice hawkers sold ladies fungers alongside chicken rice........ and only Nasi Padang came to mind.
What about the hawker friend spooked you?
Joseline: As for the hawker friend, the script gives him more action than what is usually allocated to bit characters. For example, teasing the Caucasian lady and taking the extra step to paste directions to the lady finger's stall on the front of the hawker's stall. It seems then that he has a larger role in the murder, especially his insistence that the victim has fled for China.
His story about the ring that can't be knocked down made it seem like he's attempting to mislead the hawker as well.
Jeremy: Yeah, I agree mystery and horror go together and there was something mysterious about him.
My next scary moment is rather obvious one. It was when the hawker saw the ring come to live by itself, and something knocked on the door as if on cue. I think it's especially scary because we just saw a severed palm moving on its own in a previous scene!
Joseline: It took me some time to make the connection though, that the hand wants the ring to return to it. But then again, the victim hated that ring in the first place...Were you confused in the last bit when the body parts were put back together again? Like who was in charge of the corpse?
Jeremy: I have to say the story rules were not set very clearly and much was lost in the scare frenzy. Somehow, at several points in the film, there were good build-ups, though they often ended in poorly-executed climaxes. This monster that appeared in this fourth story was a let-down for me. Feels like suddenly, we are all in a Universal Studio ride!
Joseline: Speaking of monsters, it just occurred to me that 4 out of 5 monsters feature female monsters. And for the fifth, the ghost of the haunted house never takes a visible form. I shudder to think of the implications...*not monsters, films
Jeremy: Well, you know what they say about how hell hath no fury like a scorned women? Yup, women make scarier ghosts (challenge me on that!). haha,
Joseline: Aha, but then again, quite a few horror icons are men! See, it's when we attempt to seek a thematic connection among the films that we notice this underlying gender bias. Another missed potential to provoke thoughts on top of inducing fears.
Jeremy: haha yes. Sadako, Carrie, Pontianak......
Joseline: Overall, I'm still ambivalent on how to approach this film on its own terms.
be one thing if we're expected to be casual watchers, but then that contradicts it starting with the definition of 'afterimage' and expecting us to remember it without explicit call-backs.
Jeremy: My next talking point of horror is a different kind of horror. Its the horror of native Chinese-speaking characters speaking in English like a Channel 5 drama.
Joseline: Aha! I took it as unintentional humor. It would make more sense if the kept woman is of any other non-Chinese race.
Jeremy: Case in point, it's strange enough that the hawkers are conversing in English. Name me one coffeeshop where this happens! The ultimate horror surfaced when his PRC wife tried to do a 'lulu' form Channel 5's The Noose - i.e. speak in English with a heavy accent. For whatever markets this film is aimed for, that really made me shudder.
Joseline: We can always pretend this is a dubbed film and the English is conveyed through voiceover. Don't think it's relevant to the storytelling, anyhow.
Jeremy: Still! Alright, we have different thresholds.
Joseline: An image that ought to be relevant to the storytelling is the short scene of the Asian female student in the white dress looking through the previous owners' things. The symbolism was so blatant! And yet it went nowhere.
Jeremy: Yeah, there was some expectation built in there but, like I mentioned, did not take off. In fact, a lot of things were happening in the final segment very rapidly, almost signalling the lack of time to finish telling the story. Again, there were some excellent build-ups to the screening of the final film.The idea of the film strips foretelling their fate is potentially a creepy one, though it was not milked for maximum effect.
Joseline: I'm still confused on whether it is truly 'fated'. What does the ghost have to gain from burning all of them?
Jeremy: It would have nice to support that with a back story but alas, the film succumbed to a 'all-ghosts-are-blood-thirsty-don't-need-a-reason-to-kill' justification.
Joseline: To wrap this conversation up, I would like to finish up with a question.
Jeremy: Sure, fire away.
Joseline: Among the plagiarist students, who did you initially think would be the first to die?
Jeremy: Mmmmmm.....there are a few equally likely as prime targets, either due to their curiosity, their arrogance, their devil-teasing ways. Instead, perhaps I will tell you who I thought was least likely to die - the Chinese boy.
Joseline: Shucks, I expected him to be the first to die, just because the film is so much like a typical Western horror film.
Jeremy: Hahaha. Where the Western guys survive and save the day?
Joseline: Yes! But then again, the girl in white who I mistakenly thought would be the Final Girl is Asian and also died.
Jeremy: True. Like I said, this film likes to 'overkill'. So no one lives. (evil laugh!)