Dir. Gustavo Diaz, Joshua Evans, & Chaz Fenwick (2023)
Keo and her friends from school are haunted by the Nu Gui, and she must uncover secrets from her past to find her connection with the malevolent spirit.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
There are so many fascinating creatures in Chinese mythology, and you could make an entire career making films about some of the more obscure ghosts and demons said to roam the Sino world. Despite the richness of the culture and the numerous chilling options to adapt to film, there are very few Chinese myths that have been adapted in films that have crossed the ocean. With Gustavo Diaz, Joshua Evans, and Chaz Fenwick's new Australian film Malice: Nu Gui, one of the more provocative beasts from Chinese folklore.
The film opens with a disorienting ghostly assault as the Nu Gui Malice (Martina Chen) kills a man who is trying to escape her clutches. Shortly thereafter, she turns her attention to college students Joe (Jake Harrison), Lee and Keo (Mya Lazorka), drawing them into her deadly game of desire and obsession that will ultimately lead to their deaths. Joe is one of the more disgusting and annoying characters in recent memory, so thankfully he doesn't hang around for too long, the film then focusing on Lee's infatuation with Malice and Keo's attempts to keep him away from the vengeful demon.
Where Malice: Nu Gui shines is in its ability to throw the audience off-guard with creepy scenes, excellent sound design during those scenes (especially from the demon Malice), and some throwback visuals that feel like a blend between Maoist Chinese culture and Italian giallo. The lore and mythology behind the creature at the center of the story is interesting, especially in today's world of MeToo and an increased attention to the problems that women have faced from men for centuries. It's the perfect time for a film about a creature like the Nu Gui.
While the story is largely disjointed, there are some truly creepy scenes. I would have liked to see some more explanatory scenes, and the film would have benefitted from an extra twenty minutes that could have been used to pad the story in ways that made it easier to understand. You can tell that there's a good idea here, something that very well could be adapted into a helluva film. Malice: Nu Gui doesn't hit that mark, but it's a decent attempt that has potential.
That's not to say that it's all sunshine and roses. The story is interesting but is not always developed well, with some of the film being more confusing and jumbled than necessary. The film desperately needs an editor, with the post-credit scene doing more to explain everything that came before it than, well, everything that came before it. It's a story that should probably be told linearly for those who aren't already familiar with the legends behind the plot. The sound design that is so stellar during the scenes focused around Malice is pretty standard indie sound mixing through the rest of the film, occasionally fading in and out at inopportune times. The acting, while generally decent, has it's extremely weak points, most noticeably with the character of Joe as a disgusting male chauvinist who becomes the Nu Gui's first victim in Australia.
Thankfully, almost the entire third act of the film takes place entirely in the dream world created by Malice. It's a more weirdly shot sequence, to be sure, and a lot of it is more artistic than straight-forward. That said, it's also visually gorgeous, breathtakingly bizarre, and an excellent example of arthouse supernatural horror. While the first half of the film definitely has its shortcomings, the second half is interesting and shows that these filmmakers have a lot of talent behind the camera. There's clearly some inspiration from horror history here, and I'd definitely be down to see what else these guys can create. With a little tightening and a willingness to expand what ends up being a longer short into more of a feature length, they could really be onto something here.
Who this movie is for: Short horror fans, Asian horror lovers,
Bottom line: There are some definite shortcomings throughout, but there are also strokes of brilliance. The scenes with Malice are excellently done, the creepy visuals work perfectly with the film, and some of the actors do a great job in their roles. If this was an entirely arthouse film that focused only on the ethereal "dream sequences," the story might make a tad less sense but it would be infinitely more impressive. All in all, the directors have some talent that is begging to be let loose, and I'd be more than happy to check out their work in the future. This one is streaming free on Tubi, and it's well worth a look for fans of Asian horror (despite the film taking place in Australia).