DVD Review: Curse
Review by Ben Bussey
Pulau Hantu: a small jungle island in the south of Singapore. Quiet. Peaceful. Serene. That is until a small military unit shows up, on a mission to track down some of their fellow soldiers who have gone AWOL and are believed to be on the island. Quite why they would go AWOL none of the unit can fathom, given it’s peace time, and the whole thing seems at first to be a wild goose chase. But then – as tends to be the case – strange things start happening, people start dying, and panic sets in.
On the one hand, it might be easy to go into Cursed with relatively high hopes. After all, the Far East has long been a happy home for horror cinema, with Japan, South Korea and Thailand in particular giving us many great genre entries this past decade or so. I can’t say to the best of my recollection that I’ve seen a horror film from Singapore before now, and as such I’d heard nothing of writer/director Esan Sivalingam. However, once you learn that Curse is actually a 2008 TV movie originally broadcast as Pulau Hantu (which apparently translates as Ghost Island), your hopes might sink just a little. And once you actually sit down to watch it, initial curiosity will quickly dissipate with every tedious minute that passes.
It’s yet another of those painfully middle-of-the-road horror movies, which whilst not so bad as to warrant outright contempt has very little to recommend it either. Its TV movie origins are betrayed by its dullness, both in sound and picture quality, and in content. Initially it seems like it’s going to explore some fairly dark and serious territory, delving into the origins of the trouble on the island with a history including black magic, rape and murder. This tone shifts wildly once the soldiers are introduced, each getting their own pre-mission intro, most of which boast a bit of good old fashioned crude humour (whilst one soldier enjoys a comedy love scene reminscent of Robin Askwith, I couldn’t help but note what appears to be a large crusty tissue in the foreground). However, these intros do very little to distinguish the characters, all of whom fall into stock roles in no short order: two committed serious soldiers, one hypersensitive nervous soldier, and all the others being lazy, arrogant arseholes with big mouths. Some efforts are made to establish tensions between the unit, generally when it comes to the one female officer played by Pamelyn Chee. Despite her high rank within the unit she is subjected to sexist namecalling, with one particularly stand-out line coming from a soldier who disagrees with her orders: “Woman, is your bra too tight?” On which note, it’s also interesting to see the film is performed almost entirely in English, which all of the cast are fluent in. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by that, but then I’m from England, and most of us here can’t even be bothered to learn our own language, never mind being multi-lingual.
Nevertheless, any themes or devices which momentarily promise to lead to something interesting are thrown to the wind very quickly. The story doesn’t really go anywhere, the characters are almost impossible to give a damn about, and when it’s all over it’s hard to reflect on as anything more than 90 minutes of your life that you won’t get back. Call it Curse, Ghost Island or Pulau Hantu; it’s a bland and boring waste of time under any title. I knew nothing of the Singapore film industry before, and I still feel I know nothing of it now; I trust there’s far more to it than this. In addition, I hope we can expect better things in the future from new DVD label Grayson Pictures, for whom this marks their debut release.
Curse is out on Region 2 DVD on 17th September from Grayson Pictures.