Saturday, February 27, 2016

In short: The Bride (2015)

Original title: 屍憶

Apparently, ghost marriages were once a thing in Taiwan (and one supposes in other parts of China, too), a very peculiar bit of patriarchy in action. Unmarried women, you see, don’t properly belong to any man, therefore, in a society that just might have some mild problems with that sort of idea, she won’t get into the better bits of the afterlife or be reincarnated properly. How to solve the problem? Marry that unmarried corpse to a guy in a very particular version of a shotgun wedding.

This information is pertinent to the film at hand, for one of its two protagonists, TV producer Hao (Wu Kang-Ren), has been having nightmares and daymares ever since he’s gotten engaged to his fiancée (Nikki Hsieh Hsin-Ying). In these dreams, he’s pursued by a rotten-faced ghostly woman in a (traditionally red) bridal gown. Worse still, the dead woman’s attentions don’t stay in his dreams but take on rather threatening and spooky form in the real world.

When we don’t follow Hao’s unpleasant adventures in deeply unwanted marriage proposals, we spend some quality time with teenager Yin (Vera Yan Zheng-Lan). Yin has her own ghost troubles, for she’s starting to see ghosts wherever she goes. That’s something that seems to have been a common talent in women of her family in past generations, she’ll later learn; it seems to be her job to quiet the unquiet spirits. For a long time, Hao’s and Yin’s plots seem separate but they’ll converge in the end.

Lingo Hsieh Ting-Han’s The Bride is a fine bit of Asian horror. It’s not exactly deeply original, using most of the types of shocks we know from the last twenty years or so from horror films from places as different as China, Japan and South Korea, though it does replace the more typical long-haired ghost with the hidden face with its – effectively icky – ghost bride for about half of its shocks. Hsieh does use his well-worn material rather effectively, though, using some well-placed shocks and jump scares but clearly preferring the good old feeling of creeping dread; he’s rather good at creating that feeling too, playing sure-handedly with basic human fears.

The director hasn’t just learned the obvious bits from the last twenty years of Asian horror either. He also uses that calm, unhurried way of telling a story, providing more than enough of the creepy stuff on the way but building mood by not confusing his film with a carnival ride. That doesn’t just make the creepy things that do happen that decisive bit more effective (there’s little horrifying in horror films that only ever shout at you, after all, they’re just loud) but also leaves room for characters that are just deep enough to make their fates interesting. Hsieh also manages to use a certain structural trick connected with a plot twist (no, not that one, fortunately) while still playing fair with the audience and not making a film about the plot twist. Given how horrible these things more often than not play out in horror films, that’s probably The Bride’s greatest artistic success.

That it is also a traditional but effective and engaging bit of horror nearly seems beside the point in comparison.

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