MISSING (2019) short review

p2572668775Ronnie Chau’s Missing is the filmic equivalent of a low-energy cub-scouts leader improvising a stale little scary story by the campfire, culling faintly from Japanese or Hong Kong horror films he’s watched years ago, managing to spook only those of the children who are sleeping out of their home for the very first time. It follows a social worker (Gillian Chung) whose father disappeared seven years ago, and who hears that the hills of Sai Kung may hold a portal to an alternate dimension, a limbo full of unhappy souls endlessly reliving the circumstances of their death. From that vaguest of urban legends, director Ronnie Chau has made a film that laudably eschews jump scares and amusingly needle-drops a few references to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (including a overhead shot of a car in the countryside, to an eerie rendition of the Dies Irae), but substitute muted colors for atmosphere and is populated by a small ensemble of the dullest characters imaginable: a self-serious social worker, a burnt-out salaryman, a dour cop, a nagging mother… The cast, led by Gillian Chung who alternates between blank stares and ‘gasping fish’ overacting, doesn’t do much to elevate the material. And so it’s impossible to care for anything that happens onscreen for the film’s skimpy yet overlong eighty minutes; and with the already scant beans spilled very early on, mystery is absent. And like most shallow horror films that want to appear deep, there’s a final resort to the old “the real ghosts are inside us” platitude. As far as recent Hong Kong horror goes, it’s at least a notch or two over the atrocious Binding Souls, but that’s damning with faint praise. *1/2