Friday, May 30, 2014

HOUSE IN THE ALLEY (2012) DVD review

House in the Alley (2012) Le-Van Kiet (Vietnam)

Following very messy, very bloody miscarriage, the lives of Thao (Thanh Van Ngo) and her well-meaning husband Thanh (Son Bao Tran) are shattered. Wracked with grief, Thao refuses to bury her baby’s body, the small coffin assuming a place of greater significance and gravity in the young couple’s bedroom as the days and weeks roll by. Thanh does his best to bolster his wife’s spirits, but he’s got his hands full with striking factory workers and a ball-busting mother/boss Nga (Bich Hang Tran), not to mention the strange children’s voices and the ghostly owners thereof he keeps seeing and hearing in and around the titular abode.

House in the Alley apparently broke box office records when it premiered two years ago in Vietnam. We don’t often hear much about horror films from that country, which leads me to assume that there probably aren’t many produced, which would account for its novelty and ensuing excitement at the turnstiles. However, it would be stretching things to say that any new ground has been broken here – truth is, for many seasoned horror fans, there won’t be anything here you haven’t seen before.

Dark and stormy nights, mysterious apparitions that disappear after a character rubs his/her eyes, inevitable slides into madness turning lover against lover, lots of searching about for the source of strange noises, and the (late) introduction of the house’s dark past all result in a patchwork quilt recalling many earlier, superior films.

This is not to say that writer/director Kiet doesn’t know his way around a good ghost story and his gliding camera creates an appreciable amount of dread. His charismatic (and very attractive) performers play their roles convincingly and effectively, with both Ngo and Tran given ample opportunities to showcase their thesping range. But other than the opening cavalcade of slick viscera, blood, and embryonic fluid, there’s not much in the way of outright gore and all the jump-scares come right out of J-Horror 101.

There are some interesting character relationships, including that of Thanh (who is subjected to such an inordinate amount of physical abuse over the course of the film that it becomes nigh humorous) and his longtime friend/underling Minh (played with oafish gregariousness by Van Hai Bui), but there are few surprises to be had and the clumsy fade-outs between scenes and low-rent CGI speak to a lack of funds and/or inspiration.

The final product is a competent if unremarkable one; here’s hoping that we see more from our neighbors from the East, and that they find their own specific flavor of fright instead of co-opting others.

House in the Alley is now available on DVD (with no extras) from Shout! Factory and can be purchased HERE.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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