I'm so used to being slammed, says director of Singapore's first Hollywood horror film

CRITICISM does not bother him, as his skin is "pretty thick".

Singapore film-maker Kelvin Tong remains nonchalant when it comes to scathing reviews of his latest movie, The Faith Of Anna Waters, which opened in the United States on Friday under the title The Offering.

US newspaper Los Angeles Times and Fangoria, a popular US website that specialises in horror entertainment, have criticised the 43-year-old's film, calling it unoriginal and befuddled.

"I'm so used to being slammed so negative reviews don't affect me any more," Mr Tong said.

"It's all right as I believe film criticism is a necessary part of the entire film process."

He added that being a former film critic himself - he was a film reviewer for The Straits Times in the mid-1990s - he knows that one can learn from reviews, especially those written by good film critics.

The Faith Of Anna Waters, which opens here on Thursday, is billed as Singapore's first Hollywood horror film. It stars US actors Elizabeth Rice and Matthew Settle and local actors Adrian Pang, Jaymee Ong and Pamelyn Chee.

The story follows US reporter Jamie Waters (Rice), who flies to Singapore to investigate her suspicion that her sister Anna's death was not a suicide, but linked to multiple deaths.

Jamie and Anna's ex-husband, Sam (Settle), have to defeat a demonic entity that has possessed Anna's daughter Katie (played by Australian actress Adina Herz).

Mr Tong, whose earlier films include The Maid (2005) and It's A Great, Great World (2011), calls his latest work an "experimental film".

"I've never done an English film before and this started out purely as a writing exercise," said Mr Tong, who relocated to Hong Kong four years ago.

After writing a horror story set in the US, he showed it to a producer friend, who passed it on to US film production and distribution company Highland Film Group (HFG). To his surprise, Mr Tong quickly received funding to shoot the film and an offer to do it in Los Angeles.

"I didn't write the story with the intention to shoot it."

He had a budget that was "extremely high" by Singapore standards - a total of US$6 million (S$8.2 million) to make the joint production between HFG and Mr Tong's Boku Films.

"In the US, it's considered a low-budget indie flick. But here, I can make six films with that kind of money," he said.

He opted to shoot the movie in Singapore because he "knew how to stretch the money further" here, compared with a foreign country.

"I'm at the point of my career where I don't need to break box-office records," said Mr Tong, adding that sales of The Faith Of Anna Waters "should be healthy" as it has been bought for distribution in places such as France, Germany, Spain, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines.

"My only so-called Hollywood dream is to be able to work with a Hollywood budget."

That dream, he said, could come true as HFG has offered him the opportunity to make another horror film.

"Maybe this time I may shoot the film somewhere else," he said.

This article was first published on May 10, 2016.
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