Review: Ghost on Air

A film that aspires to be a horror story as much as it tries to celebrate them through its DJ-sharing-stories-on-air conceit, Ghost on Air, local director Cheng Ding An’s sophomore feature, is a bewildering farrago of horror clich├ęs that never cohere to anything of importance. Technically apt and serviceably scary, the film has generous amounts of spine-tingling moments, with sound design – the film’s brightest spot – cranking up the sense of dread, eschewing the standard break-out-strings-on-cue formula for a more visceral and immersive score. It builds up the chilly atmosphere, somewhat lending the film more suspense than the narrative could muster, which is precisely the central flaw of the film: it is long on mood and short on urgency and story.

Playing Ping Xiao, a DJ relegated to the midnight timeslot, Dennis Chew discards the frumpy frock of his celebrity alter-ego, Aunty Lucy, only to turn in what is less a performance than a panoply of boyish smiles, pensive frowns, and robotic movements. His character, exiled from his prime time pedestal, and reeling from the untimely death of his novelist girlfriend Jia Yi (Gan Mei Yan), goes on air at night to narrate the ghost stories his late girlfriend had written. As he does so, his show’s ratings start climbing, but he soon gets haunted by something else…

 It’s with much reluctance that I am resorting to explaining the synopsis without giving away spoilers, because the truth is there is little to spoil. The plot, which is at best, paper-thin, and at worst, incoherent, never awards proper payoffs for the random scenes that spring up sporadically, and by its end you’ll also realize certain characters’ appearances were entirely arbitrary and of no significance. When the plot is subordinate to prolonged scenes of characters walking around cautiously to a chilling score, what one gets is a director affecting scares without anything at its core. Which leads me to ask: what’s the point of making a movie like this? A short film could better highlight whatever experimental concepts Cheng was attempting, and a lone walk through the park at night would have yielded just as many scares.
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