Wide World of Horror: ’23:59′ – a point in time that adds up to nothing

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Written by Gilbert Chan
Directed by Gilbert Chan
Singapore, 2011

When the best word to describe a movie is nothingness there’s something wrong with said horror movie. The problem with 23:59 is that nothing of note happens during its runtime. The premise appears to be that of a person coming to grips with the power they have. Unfortunately neither the script nor the direction knows how to come to grips with how to show that characters journey. The result is a film that trudges along but leaves no tire marks in its wake. 23:59 is almost a film that doesn’t exist, that’s how soft its footprints are in the mind of its viewer.

Throughout its running 23:59 is building to something. The reason most horror fans will go along for the ride is because of the way that Gilbert Chan’s film seems to be building to an explosive ending. There’s a level of craft on display in the way that scenes are constructed. The film sets itself up as a slow burn horror movie, the type that isn’t aiming to scare.

Rather, 23:59 is building tension and atmosphere. At about the hour mark the bubble bursts and the realization will dawn on the viewer that there’s no substance to the atmosphere they’ve become embroiled in. The characters serve no purpose other than to be pieces in an insipid game of chess. They are pawns moved to and fro by a man who has no idea how to use his pieces to finish off his film. Once it becomes clear that 23:59 has failed to build a bridge to an end piece a dull sheen settles over the film. The scene construction now reads as a troublesome and the attempts at tension merely extort a sneer.

23:59 lets itself down just as much as it lets the audience down. Xiānshēng Chan has no tricks up his sleeve to make up for the lack of resolution or meaning behind his film. He sure does try with sloppy flashbacks and attempts at sentimental emotion. Try is not the same as succeed, and as the film carries on it’s clear that 23:59 has no interest in succeeding as a horror film. If it doesn’t succeed as a horror film then there’s little reason for 23:59 to exist. Nothingness for the sake of nothingness that begets nothingness is a whole lot of nothingness. That is the best way to describe 23:59, and that’s why it’s a horror film best left to wallow in its failures.

-Bill Thompson

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