Tuesday, July 02, 2019

NYAFF ’19: Walk with Me

They are not likely to throw zombies out of work anytime soon, but evil dolls are still definitely having their evil moment. Even Malaysia is riding the wave. Sam believes the restless spirit of her brother who died in utero has inhabited her childhood doll, to wreak havoc and seek vengeance. The truth might be even worse than she imagines, but the body-count will be just as real in Ryon Lee’s Walk with Me, which screens during the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival.

Frankly, Sam’s life is terrifying enough without a haunting. She is bullied incessantly at her sweatshop place of employment, where she also must contend with a pervy boss. Things are not much better in the flat she shares with her scoldy mother and drunken wastrel father. Despite a first act exorcism, Sam is convinced the angry ghost of her little brother has possessed her insanely creepy doll. He died before he could be born, due to an accident she caused—at least that is how she remembers it, thanks to her mother’s constant reminders. Things will continue to get worse for Sam, in every way, except for the return of her suddenly fit high school pal, York.

Lee and co-screenwriter Ying-ying Chang drop a huge up-ending twist on viewers at the eleventh hour, so a little tap-dancing is required to avoid spoilers. Frankly, it is questionable whether the film makes complete sense in retrospect and it would be dashed difficult to assemble a scrupulously logical timeline for everything that transpires. However, it is all pretty scary, so you might as well buy in and roll with it.

Michelle Wai’s portrayal of Sam will just break your heart, even when things get a bit extreme. It might be hard to initially accept someone with her actress-model looks could be bullied so roughly, but her acting and the sad frequency that human nature often manifests in jealousy and resentment make it believable. Veteran HK thesps Anna Ng and Richard Ng are also terrific, in a fearlessly naturalistic and unsympathetic kind of way, as Sam’s parents.

Some really effective art direction and location scouting went into Walk, particularly the textile factory, which just looks oppressively evil. Seriously, this film should be quite a persuasive PSA for staying in school and resisting the urge to bully others. Recommended for fans of gritty supernatural horror, Walk with Me screens Thursday (7/4) night, as part of this year’s NYAFF.