The business of scaring people is a tough one. You’re always in danger of having the audience laugh at the wrong moments, which was pretty much what happened with Bjarne Wong’s recent Possessed. But at least that film was entertaining, albeit for all the wrong reasons; even though it failed as a horror movie, it was still a barrel of fun.

Michael Chuah’s Seed Of Darkness, unfortunately, is as lifeless as it gets, although there is one moment of real terror in its final moments.

Official website

Seed Of Darkness was originally titled Nephesh Seed, where “nephesh” is a Hebrew word that roughly means “soul.” The title was later changed because the producers feared many Malaysians wouldn’t be able to pronounce “nephesh.”

Seed begins with Yan (former beauty queen Wong Sze Zen) and her daughter Ying Ying (Leong Jiun Jiun, last seen in Tan Chui Mui’s Love Conquers All), moving into an apartment in a very quiet neighbourhood. The apartment block itself is not well maintained, and has few tenants. Tell me if this doesn’t already scream “Dark Water!”.

The moment they arrive at the building, Yan begins to see strange things, such as a phantom child. Then doors begin opening by themselves, while Yan also senses things in other parts of the building, such as in the basement where the daily garbage has to be left.

She meets a helpful neighbour (Alvin Wong), a mysterious caretaker, and also what may be a stalker. But things soon take a turn for the worse when Ying Ying begins talking to an invisible figure. When asked by her mother who she’s communicating with, the little girl replies that it’s her father. Problem is, Ying Ying was conceived in-vitro. And the bigger problem is that Ying’s “father” is trying to take her away.

The premise makes for a very promising and interesting story, but this part-psychological thriller, part-horror film is littered with one too many red herrings and doesn’t really take off at all. The slow-burning pace flattens out any build-up and the spooky goings-on lose their effectiveness. It’s much like waiting too long for your food to arrive that the dinner becomes a tedious affair. It doesn’t help that much of the dialogue is also stilted, as if the actors were reading their lines off cue cards.

Wong Sze Zen, despite being very nice eye-candy, doesn’t portray her character of a distraught mom very convincingly. Unlike say, Anjelica Lee Sin-jie, who can emote terror like the best scream queens, Wong is too poker-faced most times. Her character too, remains the same throughout, despite her being someone who’s supposed to be psychologically unraveling. When her daughter goes missing in the middle of the night, she seems a little too cool about it. Meanwhile, child actor Leong has little to work with, delivering a performance that’s standard procedure.

It’s commendable what director Michael Chuah tries to do here. He’s obviously relying more on atmosphere than anything else, with muted colours, skewed angles and good use of shadows. There are almost no cheap shocks here. But unfortunately, he’s working with material that’s unoriginal, a composite of many other horror films such as Dark Water, The Eye, Psycho, and even a little bit of The Sixth Sense. The biggest influence comes perhaps from the Pang brothers, as Chuah emulates their high-angle close-ups, and yes, the story also has a scary old person and a lift.

When the film’s saving grace comes along near the end, in a tension-filled scenario that’s also genuinely terrifying, it’s all too little too late. By then the two-hour film feels almost four hours long.

In the end, the real story that is of interest here is how the filmmakers pooled together their financial resources and risked almost everything to get this film made. The road to the big screen was paved with many difficulties, and their real triumph is getting a major international distributor for the film, namely Buena Vista Columbia Tristar, making Seed the first Malaysian Chinese-language film to be picked up by an international company.

It’s easy to see why. The film is technically impressive. Unfortunately, it’s the delivery that fails it.

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