With the help of cinematographer Bob Nguyen, director Hang Trinh composes delicate images in Muoi: The Curse Returns. She puts Linh (Chi Pu) in closeups, blurs the background, and moves the camera to reveal a hazy figure. These shots are meant to be unnerving, and they do work quite well when Linh is surrounded by women in white in a forest. But don't be fooled by Muoi's aesthetic. It might look like a tasteful art house film, but it is derivative and flashy. It is kitsch pretending to be clever and meaningful. The images are mere eye candy and do a serviceable job of supplying shocks and telling the story.
A horror movie can be more than a series of jump scares. However, most filmmakers are content with providing cheap thrills and surface-level pleasures. They take a thin plot and surprise us with jarring sounds and abrupt changes in images. One can still pull off tricks like these with wit and invention, though not all directors make an effort to be creative with their scares. Apart from one or two moments, Muoi, too, merely hits us with tiring clichés. The characters slowly walk in the middle of the night, and the soundscape goes completely quiet before erupting loudly to make us jump from our chairs.
Trinh, like other unimaginative filmmakers, fills her movie with conventional choices. The haunted house is located in an isolated place. Some creepy scenes are brushed aside as nightmares, and an old woman warns Linh that she should immediately go back. Story-wise, the movie is devoid of surprises. You are even able to predict the reason behind the friction between two friends. Muoi unfolds so mechanically that the revelations arrive without any emotions. This is a story about star-crossed lovers and unrequited love, and bitter friendship. But these points get a generic treatment, and their impact is further undermined by Trinh's over-reliance on lazy jump scares.
The climax drags, so much so that you begin to ask questions for amusement. For instance, why did the ghost trap Linh in a room and then tell her to vacate the premises? Shouldn't the door be unlocked if the intention is to make Linh leave the place? The sunlight comes through the windows when a man goes upstairs. But it's nighttime when he comes down a few minutes later. How did that happen? And how can someone be so dumb that even after noticing creepy women in the forest, they decide to spend another night at the location? You can say Linh cares for her friend, but such explanations require convincing characters. In a film like Muoi, every decision is purposefully stupid so the director can startle the audience.
The actors are decent and sell their scenes without making them unintentionally hilarious. But that doesn't make Muoi any better. This is a feeble film that fails to scare the living daylights out of the audience.
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