Monday, July 30, 2012

AAIFF: I Am a Ghost

Just because you’re a ghost, doesn’t mean you can’t be haunted too.  For Emily, “haunted” is not exactly the right term.  Her situation is rather more complicated and creepy as all get-out in H.P. Mendoza’s I Am a Ghost (slightly too revealing trailer here), which screens during the 2012 Asian American International Film Festival in New York.

Emily’s existence is one of strictly regimented routine.  Unfortunately, this also includes regular instances of self-abuse.  The audience knows this because we see her repeat the same day over and over.  It might sound laborious in an indulgent experimental kind of way, but stick with it.  When deviations from the pattern start to emerge, they are significant and jarring. 

Emily is a ghost, endlessly repeating the tragic memories she imprinted on the spooky old Victorian house, or at least that is what the disembodied voice tells her.  Understandably, that is not something she wants to her.  Yet, Ghost is just getting started.  Emily has some rather wicked revelations in store for her.

With Ghost, Mendoza might actually break new ground in the field of horror films.  It is really nothing like his previous films, Colma and Fruit Fly, since it is not a musical—not even remotely.  Frankly, Mendoza risks trying viewers’ patience, but he pays off their tolerance with some of the most disconcerting scenes of supernatural dread to hit screens in years.  In fact, the scares in Ghost are so unusually deep, because they are more metaphysical in nature.  Mere violence is small potatoes here.  However, it is difficult to explain how novel and challenging the twists and turns truly are, without getting spoilery.

It is safe to say Ghost is a very cool example of how a chillingly effective genre film can be produced with hardly any special effects.  Aside from maybe one sequence, Ghost relies solely on its lead performance and the moody atmosphere of the fateful house, overstuffed with evocative curios, masterfully rendered by art director-prop designer (and producer) Mark Del Lima.

Still, it is Anna Ishida carrying the picture more or less alone as Emily.  It is quite an extraordinary performance, covering the entire dark side of the emotional spectrum, with only an off-screen voice for support. 

Ghost definitely has the stuff of a cult classic that ought to be a breakout film for both Ishida and Mendoza.  It is smart, original, and unsettling.  Highly recommended for fans of ambitious horror films, I Am a Ghost screens this Friday (8/3) at the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas, as part of this year’s AAIFF.