Thursday, August 20, 2015

Macabro ’15: Hollow

Nature abhors a vacuum. So do vengeful spirits. It is time for another lesson in physics and metaphysics. This one comes from Vietnam, but the vibe is certainly consistent with the K-horror and J-horror traditions. Innocent young Ai has not been herself lately and that means big trouble in Ham Tran’s Hollow (trailer here), which screens as part of this year’s Macabro, the International Horror Film Festival in Mexico City.

Rebellious Chi does not really know why, but for some reason she distrusts her well-heeled step-father, Vuong Gia Huy. However, she adores her little half-sister Ai, even though she feels like the young cherub has taken her place in their mother’s heart. She takes it harder than anyone when Ai drowns while she was supposed to be watching her. Yet, only copper uncle Thuc understands how much he is hurting. To keep the film’s emotional pendulum swinging, Thuc thinks he has good news. When he went to identify Ai’s body at the big city morgue, he found her inexplicably alive on the slab. Of course, after the accident Ai becomes suspiciously distant and frankly kind of weird.

Hollow definitely starts with the child-and/or-teen in jeopardy template, but Tran’s execution is tight and tense, abetted by the pungently evocative atmosphere. He out Blumhouses most Blumhouse productions. Theologically, evil is defined not as the opposite of good but as its perversion. This is a principle Hollow illustrates in spades. For a genre film, it employs some pretty deep archetypal symbolism of innocence and vengeance, while simultaneously calling out Southeast Asia’s most pernicious social pathologies.

Despite all the lurid and paranormal elements, the ensemble is admirable restrained. As Thuc, Jayvee Mai sets the world-weary, spiritually bereft tone. He really looks like the sort of guy who pops an Excedrin as soon as he rolls out of bed. Young Nguyen Hong An and even younger Lam Thanh My also contribute remarkably assured performances, setting a gold standard for kids in horror films.

Although Hollow revisits some familiar Grunge-ish terrain, its secrets are distinctively creepy. The full significance of its uncanny business resonates to an unsettling extent. Life is hard in this spooky morality play, but karma is even tougher, especially for the seemingly privileged Vuongs. Recommended for fans of supernatural horror, Hollow screens tomorrow (8/21) and Sunday the 30th, as part of Macabro 2015.