In recent years, the ghost story has been heavily associated with Japanese cinema thanks to films like The Ring and The Grudge. However, other Asian countries have contributed to this horror subgenre. Vietnam recently threw its hat in the ring with House In The Alley, a haunted house film written and directed by Le-Van Kiet. The results are respectably earnest in their approach to the genre but a little too familiar and slow-moving for their own good.
The long-suffering protagonists of House In The Alley are Thao (Thanh Van Ngo) and Thanh (Son Bao Tran), a married couple. Thao suffers a horrific miscarriage in the opening moments of the film and the tragedy casts a long shadow over the couple’s domestic life. Thanh has his hands full at work with a meddlesome boss who happens to be his mom and workers threatening to revolt. Meanwhile, Thao spends much of her time depressed at home, refusing to allow their baby’s coffin to be buried.
And that’s just the beginning of their problems. Soon, Thao is experiencing inexplicable mood swings and Thanh is hearing strange voices in the house and footsteps on the roof. There seems to be some sinister force at play in their house, one that might drive its inhabitants to death and destruction before their domestic problems can split them apart.
The resulting film gives a thorough workout to all the tropes this premise suggests: there are scenes of supernatural-enhanced domestic discord, cat-and-mouse scenarios with ghosts that may or may not be there and an Amityville Horror-esque finale with a gender flip where the woman is the possessed aggressor instead of the man. Le-Van Kiet brings a suitable polish to the film and both Ngo and Tran give committed performances.
That said, House In The Alley is ultimately run of the mill as far as Asian ghost stories go. It takes a really long time to get its head of steam going, resulting in a first half that drags due to a bunch of side-character subplots that never really pay off. The second half is more engaging but it trots out a series of all-too-familiar cliches. The finale is surprisingly brutal but oddly disorganized – an exposition-dump scene about the house’s history comes after the big shock finale – and the “twist” coda is predictable enough to induce groans.
In short, House In The Alley is too formulaic and erratically paced for its own good and best left to horror fans who obsess over the ghost/haunted house subgenre.
DVD Notes: Scream Factory recently released this title on DVD. The anamorphic transfer looks nice and the viewer is offered the choice of a 5.1 Vietnamese soundtrack with English subtitles or a 2.0 English dub track. The 5.1 track was listened to for this review and it’s full of speaker activity, though the sound design can seem a little artificial at times. The one extra is a pair of trailers from the film’s domestic theatrical run.