Monday, December 3, 2007

NARAKA 19 (2007)

NARAKA 19 (2007; Hong Kong)
D: Carol Lau Miu-Suet

Slick but plodding terror tale for teens—based on the wildly popular novel 'The 19th Gate of Hell" by Choi Tsun—about a group of university freshwomen drawn into a "hell game" (in Buddhism, a "naraka" is one of 18 purgatories) via the Short Message Service feature (SMS) on their cell phones, which serve as ersatz user interfaces that help them find weapons, locate exits and earn bonus points. With two of her roommates dead and a third well on her way to insanity, mousy heroine Gillian Chung enters the game in search of answers but ultimately faces demons from her own past. Though told in a way that requires more thought than its intended audience of youngsters might be prepared to give it, the story is nonetheless intriguing if not particularly high on scares, and thanks to some impressive digital effects by Sinai Mountain, holds water for a good long time despite the villain being telegraphed far too early, and an egregious "guest star" dropped into the proceedings for sheer exploitation value.

Gillian Chung