Film review: Ghost story falls frightfully short on scare factor

The fright film offers very little in the way of novelty, one critic believes. (Supplied)
Updated 23 April 2019

Film review: Ghost story falls frightfully short on scare factor

CHENNAI: Cinema has long had a strange fascination for ghost stories, particularly since the blockbuster horror movie “The Exorcist” in 1973.

But try as they might, writers and directors have consistently failed to come up with anything fresh other than the standard jump-scares and hideous female spirits with blood-red eyes and disheveled hair.

Director Michael Chaves – known for shorts such as “The Maiden” and the TV mini-series “Chase Champion” – has now transitioned to fiction features with “The Curse of La Llorona,” a fright film that offers very little in the way of novelty.

A quick opening scene of a young woman drowning her two sons to punish her straying husband, establishes a 17th century Mexican folktale.

Viewers are then transported to 1973 Los Angeles, where recently widowed child protection worker Anna (Linda Cardellini) gets involved in the case of a mother, Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), who keeps her two boys locked up.

Anna rescues them but then finds them dead before the next dawn. They have been drowned, and Anna recalls Alvarez ranting about the supernatural La Llorona.

Anna herself has a boy and a girl, and she remembers Alvarez’s fear about the tale of La Llorona who, consumed by guilt, roamed the land in search of children to take the place of her own dead sons.

Screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis take the easy way out by peppering the plot with coincidences and unconvincing situations.

Even the film’s 93-minute run time seems stretched with flickering bulbs, creaking doors and howling winds adding little to the scare factor.

And then there is the movie’s conflicts between science and superstition, and the church and sorcery. The link is clumsy and the film pales in comparison to some others in the genre such as “The Woman in Black,” which had a similar theme but was executed with much greater perfection.

Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo US show set to open

Farah Al-Qasimi’s ‘Living Room Vape’ (2017). (Supplied)
Updated 16 July 2019

Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo US show set to open

DUBAI: Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s first solo exhibition at a US institution is set to open on July 30 at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Working in photography, video, and performance, Al-Qasimi’s work explores themes of gender, nationality and class. Her photographs subvert ingrained expectations of how images are constructed and understood and she is known for borrowing conventions from various sources, including documentary photography and Renaissance paintings.

Um Al Naar (Mother of Fire) (still), 2019. (Supplied)

Camouflage and concealment play a central role in the artist’s work. In a recent series of portraits, Al-Qasimi obscures the faces of her subjects while capturing intimate images, despite the lack of a clear, engaging face. Various compositional strategies hide identifying features — behind plumes of smoke, a well-placed hand, or sumptuously patterned textiles and drapery — while she still manages to accentuate the opulent interiors her subjects inhabit.

Alongside a group of recent photographs, the exhibition will include a screening of Al-Qasimi’s new film, “Um Al Naar (Mother of Fire)” (2019), which was recently unveiled at Art Basel Statements.

M Napping on Carpet, 2016. (Supplied)

The 40-minute video is structured like a television documentary following a jinn — a ghost-like entity in Islamic tradition. Delivering a confessional, reality TV-style monologue, the jinn appears on camera beneath a patterned sheet. The video interweaves her thoughts on centuries of Portuguese and British colonial meddling in the modern-day emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah in the UAE. The video also explores the influence of the European presence in the region and the use of Euro-centric practices for the display of historical artifacts.

Curated by Henriette Huldisch, the director of exhibitions at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the exhibition marks the first time Al-Qasimi’s work has been shown in a solo exhibition in the US — it is set to wrap up on Oct. 20.  

The artist lives and works between New York and Dubai and has seen her work exhibited in The Third Line gallery in Dubai, Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai and the San Francisco Arts Commission, among other locations.

Al-Qasimi received her MFA from the Yale School of Art and has participated in residencies at the Delfina Foundation in London; the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine; and is a recipient of the New York NADA Artadia Prize and the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship.