5 June 2020 | Davian_X
Return to sender
A failed attempt at something different, DEVIL'S BOX is a real slog of a Chinese horror flick. With an oppressively dour tone, half-baked plot and underdeveloped characters, it's a chore even at 82 minutes.
Tong is a director working at the lower margins of the Hong Kong film industry. While shooting a movie at an abandoned location, he instructs his crew to move a discarded chest. Despite their protestations that the chest is cursed, he makes them do it, and it's not long before one of the crew has taken an accidental plunge off the roof, sending him to the hospital.
Things get worse from there. The editor is found hanging from a noose made of his own film (implausible back in these cellulose acetate days), and Tong has a vision of the guy in the hospital getting murdered by a ghostly nurse right before he actually kicks the bucket. The visions persist, and soon after the doctors diagnose Tong with a brain tumor. Can he defeat these demons and satisfy the curse, or will the DEVIL'S BOX spell the end for him?
The chief problem here is there's no explanation given for what the box is, where it came from, or what it would take to get back in its good graces. There are a few bizarre montage/flashbacks that seem to suggest they might be showing the history of the curse, but they're so arbitrarily integrated it's hard to tell whether or not they're just another of Tong's visions. Beyond that, it's hard to muster the energy to care about any of the characters, given the film gives them no personalities and nothing to do. Tong is the sole even exception, and the film does do a good job painting his role in the industry - toiling away at commercials for picky clients while working on his passion-project feature. It's one of the movie's few bright spots, feeling born out of real lived experience.
Beyond that, the film is all wet, with no direction, no narrative drive, boring and sporadic kills, and nothing else to generate interest. The score is the only other bright spot, reminding me of Goblin's fantastic work on TENEBRAE. Too bad they didn't just release an album of this percussive nightmare fuel, as the film itself would have been best left on the cutting room floor.