The Ancestral Poster

The Ancestral (2022) Review

It can be hard for a director to bounce back from a widely panned film. Even harder when it was the subject of as much pre-release hype as Le-Van Kiet’s first English language film, The Requin was. But with The Ancestral (Bóng Ðè), and in a couple of weeks Hulu’s The Princess, he’s certainly trying.

Although best known for the action film Furie, here he’s chosen to go further back into his career, back to horror, a genre that worked for him in House in the Alley and The Lost Tour: Vietnam. A pre-credit interview with a woman who fears her mother’s sleep paralysis will bring harm to her child helps set up the main story.

After the death of his wife, Thành (Quang Tuan, Kumanthong, Invisible Evidence) and his daughters, Linh (Lâm Thanh My, Hollow, The Third Wife) and Yen (Mai Cát Vi, The Third Wife, Furie) move to the family’s remote ancestral home. It’s a building as imposing, and as instantly recognizable as haunted, as a Victorian mansion in a Western film.

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Thành made the move to let the three of them recover from their loss, especially Yen, who had begun having nightmares and sleepwalking. Unfortunately, not only does her condition become worse, but her sister also begins to see strange figures as well. Hoping it will help, he hires a tutor for the girls Ms. Hanh (Dieu Nhi, Naked Truth, Lost in Saigon), one who also happens to be a psychologist. But what if it isn’t all in the girl’s minds?

For the first hour, The Ancestral is an efficient, if very familiar ghost story. Le-Van Kiet does a good job of assembling familiar tropes and techniques into what feels like a transplanted James Wan film. Cinematographer Morgan Schmidt (The Prey: Legend of Karnoctus, Furie) splits his time between Los Angeles and Ho Chi Minh City and puts a Hollywood sheen on the story.

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During that first hour, The Ancestral makes good use of its creepy house setting. As a result, there are some very effective scenes, including an episode of sleep paralysis that is indeed nightmarish. Although, as someone who has experienced it, I may be a bit sensitive to scenes like this. Unfortunately, during another of The Ancestral’s better scenes, one that sees Yen trapped in some abandoned tunnels under the house, the plot takes a turn for the worse.

I won’t spoil it beyond saying that apart from it being utterly ridiculous, it pretty much negates most of the first hour and makes the rest of The Ancestral hard to take seriously. Granted, much of the last act goes so over the top it would be hard not to laugh at it anyway. And that’s not taking into consideration the ending, which appears to end one way before walking it back with another ridiculous twist.

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The CGI in The Ancestral is also laughable and on a level with The Requin’s cartoon shark. It’s doubly annoying when other films from Vietnam such as Maika: The Girl From Another Galaxy have much better effects. The film’s two most effective scares, the shadowy figures seen during sleep paralysis and a homicidal hammock, are done with simple distorted photography and practical effects.

I don’t fault Le-Van Kiet for trying to do something different with The Ancestral. The genre needs to find ways to shake up tired and generic storylines. Unfortunately, the direction he went in was a dead end and spoils what was a good enough ghost story.

The Ancestral had a limited US theatrical release in May. A VOD and Digital release is planned for some time in the future. The film has a Facebook page you can check for announcements. And while you wait, FilmTagger has some suggestions for similar films.

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