A horror with a heart, Dream Home attempts to balance satire, all-out gratuitous violence and gore with an underlying social message about the Hong Kong property market. And it almost succeeds.
The story centres on Cheng Lai-sheung. Obsessed with owning a seaview apartment in a block opposite her childhood home in Hong Kong (an obsession we learn that is driven by heartache in her past and a desire to do right by her family), she works two jobs to achieve her dream.
After discovering her ill father’s medical bills aren’t covered by insurance, she lets him die so that she can get his death benefit and move herself and her brother into her dream home. But when the stock market plummets and the sellers decide to up the price, she goes on a killing spree in the apartment block to reduce its value.
This film is certainly deeper than your average slasher film, and calling it such doesn’t really do it justice. It’s rare to feel any sort of sympathy with the psychotic protagonists in this genre, but director Pang Ho-Cheung and leading lady Josie Ho manage this with relative ease.
What opens as an apparent motiveless attack on a security guard unfolds into quite a sad, and all too familiar, concept of struggling families, growing up in cramped conditions, soaring property prices and wanting what’s best for your family. And that’s where this film excels. Many Cantonese films fail to translate to Western audiences because of quite strong cultural differences.
Although Dream Home uses Hong Kong as a backdrop, it could be any city and any property market in the world, really, and there aren’t too many Eastern references that could be ultimately lost.
This sympathy does change, however, when Lai Sheung lets her father die, and in the delight she expresses from getting her hands on the flat with his death benefit. Suddenly all the sentiment that is created by numerous flashbacks to her childhood (in which we see her best friend forced out of his home by developers), and touching scenes with her parents is completely undone by this one action.
Suddenly, it becomes more about Lai Sheung’s obsession for herself over and above the needs of her family. In a conversation with her married lover in which she asks to borrow money for her father’s operation he tells her to dip into her savings. She replies, “But that’s for me. For my future.”
But then this sympathy is so surprising that you forget it’s not meant to be just a social commentary film. Just as it’s not meant to be an all-out slasher either. And that’s the problem with this film. It tries to be too many things at one time. It even attempts to add humour in parts, which falls flat, because neither her predicament nor the gore that surrounds it is funny.
It wouldn’t have got anywhere near the amount of publicity if it was just a film about struggling to get on the property ladder. And it would have made a weak slasher movie without this underlying tale. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a winning formula when put together.
Any tension that is created in the murder scenes is flattened completely by the intertwining flashbacks and flashforwards. The attack on the students doing drugs is clichéd and the constant references to unfaithful relationships, which don’t actually add anything to the film, make it seem preachy and moralising. Whether that’s to heighten the social stance of the piece or not, it, in fact, detracts from this message.
But where there is blood and gore, Ho-Cheung has not pulled any punches, literally. Ho is seen garrotting a security guard, and suffocating a pregnant woman (after pushing her to the ground and causing her to miscarry). There’s a screwdriver through the eye and a disembowelling. There’s even a revenge attack from a naked student whose face has been impaled on a slat from a wooden bed.
Despite the fact that each victim drags out their respective deaths with gurgles and wails, and then some more groans and convulsions, which is probably done so the slasher element occupies a greater proportion of the film, each attack is choreographed superbly and the CGI, aside from one occasion, actually works.
There is, just about, enough gore, and it’s shocking enough to satisfy slasher fans. There’s enough of a back story to satisfy traditionalists, but on the whole it doesn’t pack enough of a punch to be brilliant.
Follow Den Of Geek on Twitter right here.