Review: 23:59 The Haunting Hour (2018)

Following the success of local horror film 23:59 in 2011, director Gilbert Chan is back with a bigger-budget sequel, promising better special effects and a larger ensemble cast (including Mark Lee, Wang Lei, Noah Yap, Richie Koh, Natalia Ng, Melody Low, and Fabian Loo). Produced by Clover Films, Gorylah Pictures and mm2 Entertainment Pte Ltd, 23:59 The Haunting Hour will premiere this National Day. The original film of the franchise focused on army recruits during their National Service (NS), and the sequel continues in this vein, bringing three more NS ghost stories to the screen. 

Noah Yap in "Temasek Green"

Mark Lee with his commandos ("Camouflage")

Uniquely Singaporean 

Two of the stories, “Temasek Green” and “Camouflage”, are set in the past in 1967 and 1985 respectively, while “Pixelated” is set in the present day. Temasek Green follows three recruits from the original NS intake who escape from their camp and find themselves in a cursed village under the shadow of the Japanese Occupation. Camouflage is about a group of commandos who experience a series of odd incidents after camping in the forest, as a vengeful snake spirit may have followed them back. 

All the ghost stories are set within the frame narrative of “Pixelated”, in which recruit Tommy (Fabian Loo), a wannabe Russell Lee (author of True Singapore Ghost Stories), writes original ghost stories on a website called The Haunting Hour. As seen in the trailer below, Tommy is a socially awkward teenager who finds validation through the praise he receives for his stories. His troubles start when an attractive reader privately messages him, and instead of responding to her, he instead idealises her as his fantasy girlfriend. He starts to receive text messages from her and, as their relationship develops, strange things start to happen. 

Although there are no aerial shots of Marina Bay Sands here, the stories are very Singaporean, with references to Bedok Reservoir and Hillview Avenue, both of which hold a paranormal fascination locals will understand.

Fabian Loo (Tommy) in "Pixelated"
Mdm Chew, the Anti-Woman, in "Camouflage"

Hell is Other People

Audiences should be prepared for an aural assault, as there are many sudden loud noises in the film. It’s a bit heavy-handed with the scares, nevertheless the special effects are convincing. 

The most subtle of the three stories, “Pixelated” portrays the self-consciousness of relationships at an age where keeping up appearances with our peers is important for social standing. Tommy’s desire for connection, as seen through his writing on The Haunting Hour, is what drives him deeper into the mystery of his “girlfriend”. 

“Camouflage”, the most humorous of the three films, demonstrates a fallacy of perception, the tendency to take beauty as goodness, and a certain brand of masculinity in the army where women are the minority and treated like objects. On Mdm Chew, who is brash and unattractive to the men, one of the recruits wonders, "Does she count as a woman?" The disparity between what women should look like and Mdm Chew's appearance, held up as the Anti-Woman, is the punchline for many of the laughs in this story.

Distributed by Clover Films, mm2 Entertainment and Golden Village Pictures, 23:59 The Haunting Hour will premiere on 9th August 2018 at participating cinemas.

Written by Jacqueline Lee

Jacqueline writes bite-sized reviews encompassing all genres of films on Instagram at @filmage. She was a part of the SGIFF Youth Jury in 2015. She likes cats and Creepypasta.
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