Reviews Vietnamese Reviews

Film Review: The Ancestral (2022) by Le-Van Kiet

An overly familiar but still engrossing genre effort.

One of the most time-honored genre setups in history, the haunted house comes about through a nearly-incalculable number of entries that offer up everything, from the glossy mainstream work to the barest indie productions. A mainstay in American and European productions, Asia had tackled the genre with random success with the wild Japanese classic “Hausu” to the traditional Taiwanese effort “The Heirloom,” proving that the genre had staying power around the world. Already tackled before in “The House in the Alley,” director 's new film, a box-office smash in Vietnam upon its initial release, now arrives in select US theaters courtesy of T2 Group, LLC.

Moving out to the countryside, Thanh () and his daughters Linh () and Yen () arrive at an ancestral house to get back on their feet following the death of his wife. As they spend time together in the house, their attempts at healing are constantly disrupted by both Ms. Hanh () a medical worker helping Thanh, and strange visions and hallucinations about someone or something in the house with them. Although he never knows what's going on, the only thing that happens is a greater longing to be back together as their old memories of being a family are the only thing keeping them from falling apart, and when they learn that a deadly presence is indeed living in the house are forced to confront their past in order to deal with the spirit before them.

Overall, “” comes off incredibly well. Among the best aspects here is the stellar setup from writers Kiet and Ngo Thi Hanh that provides a fine framework for the scares to come. Opening on the family returning to the ancestral house in their possession, settling in, and generally being unnerved by everything around them is a great touch to get the film moving along. The spacious location and general unfamiliarity with the house has an already uneasy vibe, and make for an even better time when brought up alongside the emotional family drama. Knowing that Thanh is going through the loneliness Trinh also experiences with their mother being dead, their attempts at healing each other while watching over Yen offer the requisite emotional and psychological base to work off of. There's enough familiarity in the structure here to recognize that they're trying to remain a family but remain haunted by the past which is a solid way to go about delivering this kind of material.

This fine setup then allows “The Ancestral” to enhance that creepiness with time-honored jump-scares adds a lot to like. With the eerie whispers and voices coming from deep inside the house to Yen sleepwalking, the early setup here comes together for a chilling atmosphere. As time goes on and the incidents become that much more terrifying, the investigation revealing the truth about who haunts the house and their purpose for being there has a lot to like. This is due to the early groundwork established at the start of the film. From chilling encounters in the backyard playing hide-and-seek together that are interrupted by the ghost getting involved to a later vision of the spirit hanging around the family during a karaoke session, the scares involved here are impressive and somewhat shocking. More importantly, a fantastic twist in the final half that renders moot a lot of what had been learned or assumed until that point sets the final pieces in motion for a strong finish. Along with a frenetic pace that keeps things interesting, all give the film a lot to like.

There isn't much wrong here but “The Ancestral” does have a few issues. The main detriment arrives in the form of the overall setup being employed, which is overly familiar and quite often featured in numerous productions. The idea of the single parent raising children after a tragic accident is something that's gone through numerous adaptations over the years. That's also true for the secondary storyline about the children thinking the new adult on the scene is going to replace the previously deceased. While overall effective at eliciting the audience to jump, the concept of the ghost appearing out of nowhere and being accompanied by a loud musical stinger is also incredibly overdone. This can make the scares feel less impactful due to the familiar setout and outcome. As well, the other small issue here is the film's twist in the third act that, while genuinely shocking as we can't see it coming, does undo a lot of the suspense and tension that had been present. The idea is fine in concept but still leaves a lot of the film not coming off with the same tone and feel as before which is enough to lower this overall.

While let down somewhat by its overly-familiar aspects and a change in focus during the last part of the film, “The Ancestral” still manages enough positive points to be a lot of fun and quite worthwhile. Asian horror fanatics or viewers that appreciate steady-if-unoriginal fare in this style will have the most to like here.

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