Local horror flick unleashes reel terror

Horror/92 minutes/Opens today

Rating: 3.5/5

The story: This compendium of five horror tales starts with a group of film students taking a dangerous shortcut: They burn offerings to the underworld and, in return, receive videos of a horrific nature. In the first video, they see a ripped-from-the-headlines story of a sexy Chinese girl found drowned in a condo pool. As more videos containing creepy contents appear, the students realise that there is a price to be paid for making the dead produce their films.

Singapore-based American film-maker Tony Kern makes movies that send chills down spines - not just of those in the audience, but also of local film investors looking on.

The horror genre might be considered a safe commercial bet, but the language choice is not. Kern is the only artist here who still makes English-language films for mainstream release.

Excluding international productions shot here, domestically-made English- language commercial cinema has largely died out, killed by poor box office performance.

Writer-director and co-producer Kern arrives at this point after two previous features, both in the horror genre: documentary A Month Of Hungry Ghosts (2008) and Haunted Changi (2010).

The spooky special effects in Afterimages, both practical (make-up and prostheses) and computer-generated, are ambitious, risky and, on the whole, a success.

This is a milestone achievement, especially for a small production house such as Kern and Genevieve Woo's Mythopolis Pictures.

The other remarkable trait here is that this work has the courage of its own horror convictions: the beasties, gore and other creep-inducing visuals in this NC16-rated work are clearly visible.

This is a welcome change from the frustration-inducing horror-lite made for the sake of lowering the age restriction to a more lucrative PG13.

If you want to experience old-school body-parts scares that fall short of total gore, you will get your money's worth.

Although there are a couple of false notes - the camera lingers too long on a foaming-mouthed security guard in a scene, for example - the story's structure is sound and the pace never flags.

The flow between the vague dread of the supernatural elements and the sharp shocks of the gorier scenes could also have been smoother, but the transitional flaws are minor.

The good work is undermined by shaky acting from the younger, more inexperienced cast members, while the more seasoned ones - such as Vincent Tee, Mike Kasem, Susan Tordoff and Daniel Jenkins - put on assured performances that let the viewer relax and follow the story, rather than take him out of it.

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