23:59 (2011)

No, I haven’t given up on this, I’ve just been home for Winter break and haven’t had the time or energy for much extracurricular stuff. But I was jonesing for some horror, and after trawling through Netflix seventy trillion times, I finally decided on 23:59. It was a pretty good choice, all things considered, and I’m glad to start the new year off with a decent film.

23:59 is about Tan and Jeremy, two army recruits at a training camp on an island off Singapore. Tan is kind of the Gomer Pyle of the bunch, always getting bullied; Jeremy is his muscly defender. The recruits amuse themselves by telling ghost stories and playing with a complicated divining board (similar to ouija). Naturally ghostly stuff ensues, and as the movies creeps forward we learn about a powerful local medium and her deformed and possessed child. Also people start dying.

I hate to be cryptic, but that’s about as much as I can say without spoilers–though to be clear, there’s not much to spoil here. It’s a very short film, just 78 minutes, and while the pacing is slow, the time seems to fly by. There’s not really much to find out, which is unusual. Typically ghost stories involve a mystery that unravels slowly right up until the end; here, while there are some unanswered questions, there isn’t the slow spiral down toward eventual acceptance that we’re accustomed to.

While it could have used more exposition, there’s some great acting and camerawork, and I’m a sucker for ghost stories in a Buddhist context. Belief is an issue here, as in most ghost stories, but for once it’s not a question of one person trying to convince the masses that they’re not crazy. On the contrary, nearly everyone believes, except protagonist Jeremy. I took his refusal to accept the traditional wisdom concerning ghosts and hauntings as a subtle commentary by the filmmakers on modernization, globalization, and the like, a nice (if minor) departure from the norm for this kind of film.

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I like to imagine this movie with every role played by R. Lee Ermey.

The dialogue is a mix of Chinese and Singlish, which makes for some interesting moments of near-recognition when the subtitles don’t quite match the English words being used.

Oh, the title has to do with the midnight hour, when ghosts are strongest, or something. Also somebody died at that moment and their ghost comes every night or whatever. I don’t know, I wasn’t super clear on that part.

23:59 is slow, but generally satisfying. Watch it if you’re in the mood for a spooky atmosphere. Just don’t expect a Shyamalan ending, or a Wan, uh–demons with painted faces and things jumping off of furniture.

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