review by Diablo Joe
The Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore is known for its excellent, unparalleled food culture, immaculate, litter-free urban areas, and exceptional quality of life standards. One out of every six Singaporean households is reputed to have wealth—exclusive of assets such as property and businesses—equal to one million US Dollars or more. But it also has a vast income gap, meaning you either have it or don’t. And if you don’t, then living in the most expensive city in the world must be brutally taxing on one’s mind.
“Repossession” follows Jim, a middle-aged, mid-level business worker who suddenly finds himself out of work. Shamed by his situation, he is unable to reveal the truth to his family. As he lives a life of lies for months on end, Jim’s financial situation begins to grow dire. As his fiscal state deteriorates, dark forces and memories from his past begin to infest his world, threatening Jim’s family.
One of the few horror films to come out of Singapore and filmed in English (Singapore’s lingua franca), “Repossession” is both co-written and directed by Ming Siu Goh and Scott C. Hillyard. Most Western audiences would consider this lack of a language barrier a boon to accessibility and understanding. But the film doesn’t play that game so easily. For much of the film's first half, many audiences might wonder if this is a horror film at all. We follow Jim, sad, worried, almost broken, as he tries to wrap his head around his predicament. Finding it hard to get a job at his age, he tries ride-share driving to make a buck, only to risk it on online trading. Just as his luck seems to turn, it’s dashed twice as hard, and eventually, his entire financial situation becomes irrevocably whipped out. Crushed.
As Jim’s real-life world unravels, a dark demonic force begins to assert itself. Flashbacks hint that this entity has been a part of Jim’s entire life, from his childhood through his time in the military and into today, coming and going. All the while, it plays with and taunts Jim. It seemingly possesses the people in his life, always with tragic consequences. But is this force real? Are these memories truthful, or is Jim an unreliable narrator? The filmmakers play puzzling games with the later events of the picture. There is an exorcism. It’s a ferocious scene but never fully referenced again; its consequences, seeming nil.
And who/what is this demon? Is it an outside force? Part of Jim’s darker self? His insecurities manifested terribly? Or is it something else entirely? All of this left very much to individual interpretation. Singapore is a highly structured culture. Conformity and strict expectations of success are the dark sides of a country that, on its surface, seems to offer its people so much. Is this dark, black entity meant to show the torment that can befall those who fall short of these cultural demands?
“Repossession” may spend far too much time on the mundane in a desire to heighten the contrast to its more horrific elements. So much, perhaps too much, of the film is underplayed. Gerald Chew’s performance as Jim is subtle, but oftentimes the actor seems so passive as to barely react to the situations around him. His character’s crippling docility almost veers into dramatic inertia.
The audience can sense what Ming Siu and Hillyard are working toward; that much is clear. While it may seem as though their structural and story decisions don’t always stick the landing, their thematic ones often hit hard and with impact. How much audiences of “Repossession” will be willing to sit with the film to reap its message will be left for each viewer to decide for themselves.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Repossession” 2.5 out of 5 imps.