Thursday, 20 March 2014

Project Hashima (ฮาชิมะ โปรเจกต์) (2013)

A bunch of ill-fated unemployed Thai youngsters struggling for their first big break take an assignment to shoot an episode for a trashy horror-travel programme and end up getting spooked to within an inch of their lives.

Like the film’s title indicates, its gimmick comes from the on-location shoot on Hashima Island. In the film’s universe, the famously deserted island got that way because everyone mysteriously disappeared on it one day—instead of being abandoned when mining became a sunset industry in Japan. What follows after the tourists commit a series of offences against the memory of the dead at Hashima is a standard modern horror genre exercise in the timing and anticipation of scare moments. Yes, our hapless Thai youngsters are spooked by kimono-clad Japanese ghosts while the most unsubtle scaretrack plays in the background.

The twist is more promising: these are film school graduates. That is, people who know how to do lighting, make-up, act, produce, direct, operate cameras, boom-mikes, and reflectors, and edit the raw footage on a computer. So yes. A bunch of film school graduates shoot a scary programme on an allegedly haunted island. Shouldn’t they be genre-savvy enough to guess what’s probably going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and how it’s going to happen? And generally avoid places where spooky stuff is bound to happen to them?

Sadly, the film plays it straight and the film school background of its hapless horror victims has absolutely no bearing on their plight. So much can be made out of it: a brainy Wes Craven horror, a metatextual comedy like Joss Whedon’s House in the Woods, or even a horror genre equivalent of Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda. In a film in a genre that makes the best and most frequent use of Chekov’s gun, it’s strange that this leads nowhere.

Maybe the real horror that the creative team behind this film is trying to get across is that film school in much of Asia teaches technical skills and nothing about storytelling.

(Note: Historical footage of the real Hashima can be seen in the end credits. For some, this is a good reason to watch this film.)

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