Directed by Ho-Cheung Pang (2011)
Reviewed by Mat, added on Feb 9 2011
Dream Home purports to be the “1st slasher film from Hong Kong”. I don’t know enough about Hong Kong horror cinema to verify that claim but it is most certainly not a “traditional” slasher in the 80′s sense that we usually identify slashers with in our minds. There is no masked killer running around, no simplified plot, and no linear narrative. Dream Home is quite different in terms of its topic, motivations, killer, and slasher plot structure.
The plot is told in a non-linear fashion. A woman named Cheng does part time work as a bank telemarketer. She’s got a few friends, but spends most of her nights in sleazy hotel rooms, the mistress of a wealthy businessman . We find out that Cheng has been saving money her entire life. All of it is to go to an expensive apartment that overlooks the sea. The film’s narrative bounces around to different points in Cheng’s life, from a child being evicted from her home by government backed Chinese Triads, to caring for her ill father, to present day as she tries to purchase this seaside apartment. In between these scenes of back story is Cheng going on a brutal murder spree. In fact, the film opens with Cheng murdering a night watchmen with a zip tie (who then uses a box cutter to try to cut it off his neck, an especially cringe worthy sequence). The back story sequences attempt to slowly reveal to the audience why, exactly, this girl is going nuts on seemingly random people.
I can see why people would call this a slasher film, and I guess in a way it is. It’s got the requisite conventions: inventive kills, sex, drug using young people, etc. But honestly, that’s the least interesting part of this movie. The majority of it is exploring why Cheng became this killer, and what the goal is; why she is doing what she is doing. In that respect, a lot of viewers might find it a bit jarring, or even boring, but I really dug it. I appreciated that this was a slasher that had bigger themes than just the “Supernatural dude out for vengeance” type of thing. The big themes in this movie are cultural, with the housing market being front and center. The film makes no excuses for discussing not only the crashed U.S. housing market, but showing the feeling of having no control in terms of health insurance, as it is discovered that Cheng’s father had a pre-existing condition and she must bear the financial burden. This message isn’t as heavy handed as it may seem, as the filmmakers ground it in Cheng’s experience, not in some greater “Corporations are evil” slap in the face. And that’s what makes the film work so well. You actually feel for Cheng and have sympathy for her plight.
That being said, whether or not you enjoy this film will ultimately be decided by whether or not you buy the reason they give for Cheng going on her murder spree. I can really see criticism towards this film being from the perspective that the film never quite connects its themes to the character’s motivation. Because the films narrative bounces around so much, it is sometimes difficult to become fully invested in what is happening. It feels like 2 different movies. On one hand, it’s this drama about Cheng caring for her ill father while trying to balance money issues (she wants to buy the apartment on the sea for her father; a promise she made when they were originally evicted when she was a child), and then these bursts of graphic violence as Cheng murders pregnant women, “innocent” teens, and night watchmen. There is a disconnect as you are watching it because it isn’t revealed until the end why this good person has gone on this murderous rampage. The filmmakers are hoping the mystery of “Why?” Cheng is doing these things is enough to keep you into the film. For me, it was, but I can see an angle for criticism there. And again, when Cheng’s murder spree motivation is revealed, I’m not sure it totally holds up, and I’m not sure I 100% buy it, but for the character it makes sense, I suppose. Oh, the film claims this is based on a true story, I’ll have to look into that.
The violence is, generally, quite well done. Overall the film looks slick and polished, but the kills are fairly interesting and a couple made me wince, and even if none of them were amazingly original, they were done effectively. There is one scene involving a gun that had some pretty terrible CG which I was disappointed with. And if you like boobs, you get boobs. In the end, I really liked Dream Home. I appreciated that it was trying to do something more than be a simple stalk and slash fest. It is, in a very real sense, a modern slasher in that it takes real world events that effect millions of people and then uses them as the basis to tell its story. It’s a slow burn punctuated with moments of effective violence. And lead actress Josie Ho is absolutely adorable, which makes the effect of this beautiful small woman doing these horrible acts of violence all the more impactful. Well worth a look for slasher fans.