House in the Alley DVD Review
Written and directed by Le-Van Kiet
2012, Region 1, 95 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on May 27th, 2014
Thanh Van Ngo as Thao
Son Bon Tran as Thanh
In an escalating stand-off with management, the employees of Thanh’s family-owned business are currently on strike. His mother is a heartless woman who refuses to help Thanh with any of his problems and actually causes some of the drama. Oh yes, and his wife Thao has suffered a violent miscarriage and refuses to leave their house, which is now apparently haunted by a mysterious ghost child. Thanh investigates strange rooftop noises at night but suffers a fall to the ground resulting in injuries that leave him with cuts, bruises and an impressive limp.
Things are not going well for Thao either, as she suffers from postpartum depression and her worthless husband refuses to allow her to visit her mother for comfort. She defiantly insists her baby's remains stay in a box at the foot of their bed, refusing a proper burial, and she too is now haunted by the sights and sounds of invisible children. Thao reluctantly agrees to a night out with her husband, but her efforts are rewarded with terrifying hallucinations at dinner and unwanted sexual advances when they return home. She can't seem to find anyone to talk to, her mother-in-law is a nagging bitch and her friends act surprised when Thao confides her secret desires to murder Thanh. Things continue to spiral out of control for this once-happy couple until they build to a violent confrontation involving a fire ax.
House in the Alley is billed as the most successful film made in Vietnam, and the fact that it is a horror flick is equally impressive. There is a heavy Roman Polanski vibe here, but if the goal was to emulate Repulsion or Rosemary's Baby, the delivery fails to connect. Writer/ director Le-Van Kiet has seen a lot of horror movies and it shows, but while he may be able to duplicate the look of the genre, he lacks the skill to navigate the terrain. This is a case of style over substance, and while the deliberate pacing may work to enhance the atmosphere of the picture, audiences will find their attention wandering while they wait for the predictable plot to catch up.
Maybe the Vietnamese film industry is tiny or perhaps the local cinemas don't import a lot of Asian horror, but House in the Alley feels more like the box-office champ of 1991 than 2012. Despite an interesting premise, the story is content to wallow in cliché and repeatedly cuts away from anything approaching horror to visit the striking-workers subplot that never pays off. Yes, Thanh has a shitty life, but I am more interested in what the ghosts at home will do to him than spending additional time at the office with his mother. The script is the real villain here, as it paints our protagonists with a brush that stains instead of revealing character depth.
Son Bon Tran (Inferno) is in a rough position as Thanh; audiences are given little to root for if their male lead is this much of a pussy and manages to be a dick to his grieving wife at the same time. Thanh Van Ngo (The Rebel) does what she can as the tormented Thao, but is bedridden for much of her time. She makes the transition from denied mother to possessed psycho with an impressive performance and this speaks to her talent as an actress, since it’s impossible to tell how much direction she received. Both actors do the best with the material provided, but neither will be remembered for their work here. Maybe next time the talent involved on both sides of the camera will hold out for a better script, but as it stands, this movie is just more of the same. You've seen it before and it was likely more entertaining.
Video and Audio:
House in the Alley is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and features a strong transfer. Flesh tones are consistent and black levels remain solid while colors appear deliberately desaturated.
The original Vietnamese language track is presented in a decent 5.1 surround mix, while an optional English language dub is provided in 2-channel stereo. The 5.1 mix is obviously the way to go and while it is not necessarily the most robust audio you are likely to find, it is still fairly respectable. English subtitles are provided for those in need.
A short teaser trailer is the only supplement included on this disc.