Posted by Holly
Director: Pang Brothers
There have been a lot of horror films that take place around the life of a writer; perhaps this is to contrast the idea of what is happening in an imaginative mind versus what is actually happening in the real world, and how thin that line can become under duress. Sometimes, this is used to great effect, and manages to blend fantasy and reality with terrifying consequences; other times, it feels like a cheap writing trick.
Re-Cycle takes this well-used concept and does something unexpected with it, and considering the amount of recycled ideas in movies recently, this is a compliment in and of itself.
The film is about Ting-Yin, a horror writer who is attempting to write a new book and struggling with coming up with ideas. As she’s inventing a story, and subsequently rejecting a lot of her in-progress writing, strange things begin happening to her. Things that she had described in her novel begin to become frighteningly real, and a faceless apparition begins appearing to her. Before she knows it, she has left the world she knows to be real behind, and embarks into a terrifying new dimension.
There were a lot of things about this film that I loved. The main character was sympathetic in her struggle to move forward in her work, and in her attempts to move forward in life. The inclusion of a lover that she had to leave behind when he would not leave his previous relationship to be with her, and even asks her to wait for him, highlights the amount of personal turmoil she is working through on top of her career woes. When this character comes to her, eight years later, and asks for her to take him back, her pain is palpable. This is the third film I’ve seen Angelica Lee in, working with the Pang Brothers, and she always manages to bring an aspect of vulnerability to her characters, even while they are flawed.
The dark fantasy world she enters partway into the film is beautifully rendered for the most part. Ting-Yin finds herself in the world of the abandoned, a grim wasteland that has an inherent sadness to it. Every last toy you threw away as a child is there, everything you’ve ever discarded as unimportant or simply trash. There is a poignant moment where Ting-Yin encounters a field of forgotten ancestors; this plays out as a particularly tragic and frightening scene. It isn’t until we get to the actual purpose of this world that it begins to become glaringly obvious what the intended message is (somewhere around when you reach the tunnel of fetuses), and then the beauty begins to feel manipulative and tainted. There is, until then, a desolate Alice in Wonderland feel about things, with our protagonist the one who falls through the rabbit hole.
Along the way, Ting-Yin meets a young girl, who is nameless, but chooses to help Ting-Yin find her way to the transport, where she might find her way back home. The relationship developed between Ting-Yin and this girl is actually quite nice, until you get to the end of the film. Again, the intended message of the film comes across too strongly for it to feel anything other than preachy. If you’re paying attention, it’s easy to pick out who this girl is pretty early on, and even knowing that, it initially creates a sad and thoughtful story about grief; this changes when the girl delivers her final monologue. Now, I’m not a part of Chinese culture, and so I am not really one to speak on the nuance of social issues, or the perception of them there, but any film that has a strong anti-abortion rhetoric raises my hackles a bit.
There are women who feel pain and regret over their decision to have an abortion, absolutely. And it is okay to tell their stories, it is crucial to allow their stories to be told with respect and compassion. But this felt different from that; this felt more like that was a framework being used to condemn abortion across the board. It felt like the manipulation of the complex grief a single person or character can feel over a decision, used to shame all people who have made similar decisions in life. And it’s a shame that it became so heavy-handed, because with a few of the more preachy scenes discounted, this is an otherwise beautiful film.
Despite my frustration with this film, something strange happened. When I finally reached the end, the final scene threw one last curve ball, and it actually managed to save the film in some regards. The final twist that is revealed is genuinely surprising, and forces you to rethink the rest of what you’ve seen up to that point. It recontexualizes everything you’ve witnessed, and the main character herself, and while it doesn’t change the confrontational nature of the abortion storyline, it does ask you to consider that maybe it was never the filmmaker’s judgment that was being depicted here at all.
Even with my reservations, I would still recommend giving this film a watch. There’s enough beautiful imagery and surrealism to try and offset its flaws. This doesn’t quite come near to matching the true gem created by the Pang Brothers, The Eye, but it’s a respectable addition to their film repertoire.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. Flawed, with some seriously uncomfortable anti-abortion rhetoric, but a beautiful and eerie tale nonetheless.
Scariness level: The faceless woman is pretty startling the first couple of times you see her, and there’s some strong surrealistic and eerie imagery in the abandoned world, but otherwise, this doesn’t deliver a lot of big scares.
Violence level: Pretty much non-existent.
Bechdel test: Passes pretty well. Most of the film’s interactions take places between Ting-Yin and the girl she meets in the other world as they traverse its many dangers.
Mako Mori test: This film is always about Ting-Yin and her struggle, both to find an escape, and to find peace. The male ex-lover is barely a blip on the radar, other than to set up some of the context.