Atmosphere of dread pervades farm of secrets

MOODY HORROR: Wang Yu plays a farmer in Soul. The damp, foggy farm on which he toils feels so authentic audiences can almost smell the rotting of wood.


    Jul 17, 2014

    Atmosphere of dread pervades farm of secrets

    SOUL (NC16)

    Horror/112 minutes/Opens today

    Rating: 2.5/5

    The story:

    A-chuan (Joseph Chang Hsiao-chuan) is a chef in Taipei. After a fainting spell, he is taken to his rural hometown to be cared for by his father, the simple, taciturn farmer Wang (Jimmy Wang Yu). A-chuan's bizarre speech leads his father to suspect that something evil has descended on him, having its roots in a traumatic incident in their family's past.

    ASIAN folk beliefs about footloose souls are given arthouse treatment in this multi-award-winning work by writer-director Chung Mong-hong.

    The result is a moody horror piece that wins its scares not with gore or shocks but with a drawn-out atmosphere of dread.

    There is a lot here that recalls the work of Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director of the Palme d'Or-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010).

    As in Boonmee, characters here talk of becoming unstuck in time and space, and the dialogue is mannered, sparse and often opaque. But where Chung's debt to Weerasethakul becomes apparent is in the photography and sound.

    The hum of insects is ever present and often oppressive, while the damp, foggy hill-strewn farm on which the stoic Wang (Jimmy Wang Yu) toils feels so authentic that the viewer can almost smell the wet rot seeped deeply into the planks making up the structures.

    The homestead feels old and lived-in but is not exactly creepy.

    It feels more like what the film needs it to be - a place of secrets.

    Given these elements, now recognised everywhere as Asian arthouse must-haves, it is not surprising that this work was Taiwan's entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category in this year's Oscars race.

    This does not mean that Chung (Parking, 2008; The Fourth Portrait, 2010) does not break the languor now and again.

    Sometimes, the camera pulls back to reveal something surprising, such as a crypt - carved into a hill - which is big enough to swallow a car.

    Where it all starts to get shaky is in the third act, with its genre-pandering conclusion. An ending which was more in keeping with the otherworldly tone of the film would have felt less like a cheat.