“The Heirloom” – A.J. Hakari

The Heirloom, a Taiwanese entry into the growing market of Asian horror, takes the haunted house film a bit further than merely providing a few boo scares in a foreboding edifice. Like Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water before it, this movie is a drama first and a horror movie second, not completely leaving out its fair share of creepy elements but undoubtedly more focused on telling a story about how one family’s evil is still powerful even generations down the road.

 

Young architect James Yang (Jason Chang) has received the surprise of a lifetime when he’s notified of a new inheritance –a sprawling mansion in Taipei once owned by his distant relatives. James is more than eager to start renovating and begin starting up a family with his dancer fiancĂ© Yo (Terri Kwan). But it’s not long after they move in that the obligatory Strange Things begin to take place. James and Yo’s friends have a weird habit of falling asleep elsewhere and waking up in the Yang mansion, with no memory concerning how they got there. But when one of the friends meets a highly unusual death, Yo is convinced there’s more to the house’s past than meets the eye. Digging into historical records, Yo learns of a mass suicide that took place at the house decades ago, and she soon finds herself racing to understand what the supernatural force still living behind the walls and underneath the floorboards is before it takes ahold of her and James next.

 

The Heirloom isn’t as successful as a horror film as it is in exploring its more dramatic, Gothic-inspired storyline. Those looking for hardcore scares will be disappointed and confronted with a plot that might not live up to their expectations. The film as a whole works, just not in the ways one might be expecting. The Heirloom relies much more on atmosphere to drive its creepiness, beginning the film with a title card informing the audience of a ghastly ritual and thereafter building upon the eerie vibes established by playing around with the viewers’ ideas of what horrible secrets this house has to tell. In that respect, The Heirloom is more like a mystery/drama with a supernatural tinge, the story of a young man who, piece by piece, comes to realize his estranged family’s bizarre past and how their actions re-emerge to haunt him.

 

First-time director Leste Chen and screenwriter Dorian Li do a solid job of keeping the audience intrigued and interested in following where the primary plot goes next. The story does tend to drag a bit, and its sporadic instances of scares are a tad hit-and-miss (the highlight being the grim fate of a cop who tests out the mansion’s teleporting ability), but on the whole, the film remains consistently creepy and emotionally convincing, thanks to sympathetic performances delivered by its leads.

 

Although not as freaky as other imports (such as the Pang Brothers’ The Eye series), The Heirloom takes on fear of another kind — that of someone trying to start life anew finding himself tackling a legacy of past sins. This movie may not boast as many good “gotcha” scares as one would like, but it definitely succeeds in balancing story and spookiness.

 

Rating: ★★★☆

 

-A.J. Hakari

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