With the relative box office success of various local horror/horror-comedies last year, the bandwagon has now been created, and looking at the slate of upcoming local or local co-productions over the horizon, we'd better be fearful of sub-par productions that will find it opportune to sneak into releases and laugh their way to the bank. After all, audiences here will lap up just about any horror related genre, and horror seems to be in a class of its own immune to word of mouth warnings, since if you don't find anything that will make you jump at your seat, it's likely you can get to laugh at the weak attempts.
But Ghost Talk doesn't even give you the latter opportunity. The first signs of trouble, at least in my books, is the run time. Don't get me wrong that all films with short run times are suspect, and that I pay holy tribute to films that span hours. With a limited run time, things happen doubly fast - quick cuts to jump scares, repeatedly, or doubly slow if the idea is flimsy and scenes drag out just because they can - a shadowy figure appearing along a dark hallway, creeping toward the screen, and you'd have to look at your watch to wonder what's taking it so long. No, with a short run time of 70 odd minutes, you don't get much of a story, and ultimately for a horror film to work, story still proves to be king, never mind some illogical moments along the way.
The formula almost always has the spooked getting into an investigations of sorts to determine the unfinished business of the spook. By now, horror film aficionados can rattle off a list of why ghouls return to haunt certain people, and now all, before finally being defeated, addressed and put to rest. I put the blame squarely on poor pieces like 23:59, which showed how a film with a truncated run time, little plot, and illogical (even in horror fantasy terms) or even lazy development of scenes and characters, but making enough dough to proclaim it a success at the box office. It worked no thanks to audiences rewarding it where it matters, and now, we get the kind of films we deserve.
Writer-director Cheng Ding An made his first feature film based on the Singapore football heydays of the 70s, and no effort got spared in trying to recreate the atmosphere of those glory days, meticulously, as best as budget would provide, crafting the sets, costumes, and going all out to look for look-alike folks, never mind if they aren't professional actors nor can kick a football to save their lives, and re-enacting from television scenes of how the football in iconic matches actually played out. The National Stadium got utilized and training got underway to whip them all into shape, and fusing it with so much nationalistic fervour that Kallang Roar is now a National Education staple. It had challenges that any typical first time feature film would possess, but what it had that cannot be ignored was its stout heart and sincerity.
The film was far from a resounding box office success, and I suppose this may have provoked the writer-director to embark on a genre that would provide better returns to its investors. The premise is not bad at all, playing upon our fears yet fascination in listening to horror stories, and collaborating with a real life DJ to craft a story around the central character of a DJ no less, who gets relegated into the graveyard shift no thanks to a moment of pub indiscretion that damaged his idol reputation, and as an idea for a radio show, decides to read off his dead ex-girlfriend's unpublished novel. As luck would have it, his ex's stories seem to be rooted in some form of reality that she had experienced while renting a room at a shop selling funeral paraphernalia, and it's not before long that he too faces down with the ghouls that had once haunted his partner.
Alas, what works on paper may not translate to film, and what we got was pretty much a lot of unnecessary plot distractions, hampered by weak acting. It's about time filmmakers here have to think about properly developing a story, and having scenes that make sense when transiting to and from the next or previous. It's also about time that they cast real, professional actors, or at least anyone who can act decently, because solo expressions carried throughout a film does not a good actor make. What goes on in Ghost Talk is pretty haphazardly put together, with the film guilty at launching into lengthy build ups to find a moment to unleash scary mayhem, again dipping into the usual 101 bag of tricks.
With a plot that didn't work much, the actors all have their work cut out for them, and more often than not they turn out to be weak caricatures. Dennis Chew may have nailed it as the cross dresser with his extremely famous Aunty Lucy get up, so much so that Aunty Lucy can command appearances in feature films on her own, sans makeup. Dennis' Ping Xiao just cannot flesh out his troubled DJ character, relying on one note acting that makes Keanu Reeves look like Oscar award winning material in every film he had played in. Worst are his co-stars in Samuel Chong and Eunice Olsen in playing Ping Xiao's boss and rival respectively who together may have an unspoken fling, and adding to Olsen's beauty queen and NMP titles, she has also now earned the flower vase in a feature film title to add into her resume. With Ping Xiao's ex Jia Yi (Gan Mei Yan, also a real life DJ) being crucial to the plot, you'd wonder if DJs should stick to their day jobs and leave acting to actors instead.
The only positives in the film are its technical production values, with its rich sound-scape standing out from the crowd, but with anything good going, it got abused and abused bad. You cannot deny Dennis Chew has a voice meant for the airwaves, and it shows up in the film especially when he launches into his lonesome, eerie shift duties and delivering stories that will send up some chills through the sound of his voice alone. Ghost On Air may have worked a lot better as a radio programme rather than a feature film, containing that mix mash of ideas from traditional spooky films to something more hip in recent years such as found footage from CCTV and record videos, but ultimately relegated itself through weak execution and a story that didn't live up to the potential spelt out in its premise.