The Ancestral (Bong De)
Dir. Le-Van Kiet (2022)
A Vietnamese family discovers a malevolent presence in their ancient ancestral home.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
I gotta be honest: I know that there are dozens of horror movies where people inherit a huge house with all kinds of terrible secrets, ghosts, and whatnot, but at the end of the day, at least you have a giant fancy house. With the housing market being the way it is, you can't turn your nose up at that. The Ancestral, which opens today on Screambox, deals with just this scenario, a single father who moves into an enormous home with his two daughters, not knowing that an ancient curse is just waiting for them. Mixing in with the "old dark house" aesthetic is the family's history of night terrors, which supposedly cause sleep states where the victim doesn't know whether they're having nightmares or if the things they're seeing are real. This, naturally, causes all sorts of havoc when one of the girls begins to show the family flaw.
Director Le-Van Kiet, better known for martial arts spectacle Furie and the Alicia Silverstone-helmed sharkfest The Requin, brings his vision of folk terror to the screen with a surprisingly generous use of light. Many of the film's scarier scenes are bathed in sunlight, and even some of the ones that are shot in the darkness are amply lit enough to be able to tell what's going on. That should be a given, but any fan of modern horror knows that it is, unfortunately, not. The external shots in the film are flat out gorgeous, showcasing the Vietnamese architecture and flora that serve as the backdrop for the film.
The surreal nature of the events in the film, which largely occur because of that aforementioned dream/wake cycle, makes it hard to follow at times. When the truth behind the events in the house are revealed, it's quite a shocking turn. The film alternates between supernatural folk horror and family mystery and then back again, becoming convoluted before rescuing itself from the brink, only to turn back toward convolution again. It's a better-than-decent film, but it is this flights of fancy that prevent it from being better than it is. It's still incredible watchable and attainable, which is not often the case with Asian horror from an American perspective.
Despite having a bit near the end that doesn't make as much sense, The Ancestral holds together more than most Asian horror. It never goes completely off the rails, and even when it threatens to, it all at least kinda makes sense with the rest of the film. The acting is pretty good, especially from the two young stars Lam Thanh My and Mai Cat Vi, and the special effects, while almost entirely digital, work at least as well as the ones in Mama. It's actually not a bad comparison, though I hated Mama and actually kinda like this one. It's not a perfect film by any stretch, but it's well worth a watch and translates pretty well cross-culturally. If you have a Screambox subscription, give this one a watch and let me know what you think.
Who this movie is for: Fans of Asian horror, Supernatural horror lovers, Dream lovers
Bottom line: The cinematography is roughly similar to other films of its caliber, but the scenery and mise en scene make The Ancestral a gorgeous film for your eyeballs. There are some pretty creepy moments throughout, and the actors do a fantastic job with their roles. It gets a bit jumbled roughly three quarters of the way through, and while this does prevent the movie from attaining the heights it perhaps otherwise could have, it's not half bad and definitely well worth a watch for fans of Asian horror. Check it out on Screambox starting today!