Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Whats's in the Darkness (2015) NYAFF 2016

Wang Yichun  introduces her film
My second trip to the Walter Reade Theater for this years New York Asian Film Festival was for Wang Yichun's WHAT'S IN THE DARKNESS a mash up of a coming of age film and a serial killer flick. Its one of the biggest head scratchers of the festival.

Set in 1991 the film is the story of Jing. She's a young girl in a rural village trying to come to terms with life and growing up. Her mom is a stay at home mom and her dad is a brighter than average police officer who is going nowhere because he is trying to use the forensics he learned in college. Both her parents seem to look down on her and remind her constantly of the financial hit they took by having her, their second child. Into the quiet town comes a serial killer who is killing young women. Of course the bone head police don't have a clue and keep arresting  the wrong suspect.

Will Jing survive? Will they catch the serial killer? More importantly will any of the plot threads be resolved? Not bloody likely.

WHAT'S IN THE DARKNESS has been bouncing around for the festival circuit for the better part of a year, and while it's a good film, I'm kind of hard pressed to know why because its not that interesting. Its the sort of film that left the audience staring at the screen for a good two minutes before light applause started as if someone suddenly realized they should applaud since the director was there. It was less than a minute after the sudden appearance of the end credits when murmurs of "you have to be joking" and "That's the ending?" started coming from the people around me.

Give  director Wang Yichun points for making an enigmatic, if amusing film but you have to take some away because she's got so many balls in the air most of them crash by the end.

The biggest problem with the film is that serial killer story exists at all. While it adds a nice sense of danger it has no reason to be such a focal point since the film doesn't do anything with it. Yes it could have worked had it been one or two murders since it would have been  an telling echo of the dangers of growing up but the increasing number of deaths (including a weird one where a pair are burying a body in the daylight) is just too much to ask. Focusing on it that much requires the film to do something with the threads other than show the police are morons and leave us hanging with a literal last minute twist at fade out.

Of course it doesn't help that there isn't much to the characters. Jing is tight lipped and simply reacts to the world around her and tries to find her place. She says little and simply observes or sings. Meanwhile her parents are one note beasts who are abused by life and simply bitch about everything-Jing in particular. Their lives fade in and out in a series of loosely connected episodes that go nowhere and change nothing other than Jing's hairstyle and the town has a few less residents by the end.

It's not a bad film, I enjoyed it up to a point, but there was this point where I kind of knew it was going nowhere so I just threw up my hands because I knew there wasn't going to a resolution, or a more importantly a point. Films, even slices of life, have to have points, this film doesn't have one.  If the film was a true slice of life why have the serial killer thread? I say this not because I want closure but because four dead people is just too many for a slice of life - I mean how many towns or cities have known killers working this fast? Its a slice of life for nowhere.

I had to duck out before the Q&A and that's probably a good thing because I would have been required to ask a great many pointed questions that the director probably wouldn't have wanted to answer.  And it's not that I want answers about the plot, I've seen enough films in my day to know that some films don't have answers, then again those enigmatic ones that work don't have red herrings floating around front and center. I would have wanted to know why she made the choices she did that got the film stuck in a mire.

To be brutally honest I have no idea why this film exists. I don't see the point of the story.It kind of goes nowhere and if it didn't have the killer story line no one would have ever paid it attention. I somehow suspect that the film was supposed to be a simple coming of age film, but that the murders had to be added to get funding. I mean name another coming of age story, short of one involving a psychopath, that has a body count this high. You can't even call it a shaggy dog tale.

Annoyance with the fact that the film goes nowhere it is good enough that I can say that the film is kind of worth seeing if you run across it, but you need to know like in life there are no resolutions, however unlike in life there never is the possibility for any to occur.

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