An army recruit was found dead during a 24km road march. After the death of the recruit, strange things began to happen, haunting all the soldiers in the barracks.
Originally released in Singapore a few years ago, writer/director Gilbert Chan’s “23:59″ is just arriving on our shores thanks to the good people at Magnet Releasing and while it’s not the scariest flick I’ve seen this year it still managed to raise a hair or two on the back of my neck.
23:59 tells the tale of a group of young recruits in the Singaporean army who enjoy telling each other ghost stories late at night when they should be sleeping. Late one evening, one of them tells a story about the death of a young woman that took place on the very island they’re training on and guess who starts paying them nightly visits afterwards? The title of the film refers to the time that the woman died and one of the young soldiers, Tan (Tedd Chan), believes that he is going to fall victim to the vengeful spirit. Tan is a lot quieter & far more reserved than his fellow recruits and much to Tan’s regret, that’s a trait that the others love to exploit. Tan’s one friend is Jeremy (Henley Hii) who, despite their friendship, scoffs at Tan’s insistence that a malevolent spirit is after him. Jeremy tries to convince Tan that all of his fears are the result of an overactive imagination & overall fear of things that go bump in the night. But during a 24km march, Tan is found dead and Jeremy slowly begins to piece together the truth behind his friend’s death. But sometimes the truth is hard to swallow…
What’s good about 23:59 are the strong performances from the entire cast. As Tan, Tedd Chan does a great job in giving the audience no real reason to like his character too much. It’s not that he’s someone you just want to dislike from the start, it’s just that his innocence and mewling nature can begin to rub someone the wrong way after awhile. He’s not a bad sort, just an annoying one. Henley Hii’s Jeremy is the real star of the film and his dedication to finding out exactly what happened to Tan gives his character a heroic gloss that makes him stand out from the rest of his platoon members. It also leads him back to certain familial realities that he’s turned away from in an effort to distance himself from them which eventually leads to a sad realization for both himself and the audience.
Gilbert Chan’s script is supposedly based on a true story (Aren’t they all nowadays?) but rather than emphasize the scares his script puts emphasis on the characters and how they slowly begin to break down after Tan’s mysterious death and that’s a pretty gutsy move considering 23:59 is being pushed as a ghost story. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have a few good scares in it though, one scene in particular involving a head count during which there might be an extra head being counted was especially creepy. There are a couple of decent scares to be found herein but overall I found it to be more of a drama with supernatural overtones rather than an out and out ghost story.
What’s not so good about 23:59? Well, it’s a bit on the short side (78 minutes long) and there are a few plot threads left dangling at the end of it. Another 15-20 minutes would’ve helped tie up the loose threads that the script forgot about. Another issue I had was with the language spoken in the film. Whenever I receive a foreign film to review, I usually watch it in it’s original language with English subtitles. I think it’s important to listen to dialog the way it was intended to be heard, no matter what the language is. An important part of any actor’s performance is in how he/she recites his lines, the inflections, the intonations. Although Mandarin is the dominant language spoken in the film the characters have an odd way of just speaking some fairly huge swaths of dialog in English for no discernible reason other than they could speak the language. But their accents really maul whatever English they’re speaking and they recite it so quickly that without the subtitles I wouldn’t have known what they were saying.
But none of those complaints really kill 23:59. It’s a well written, directed & acted character piece that held my attention and gave me a shiver or two while doing so. Like I said earlier, it’s more of a character study than an outright ghost story and the cover art might fool you into thinking you’re renting a film far scarier than it is but it’s an interesting film nevertheless and it’ll give you a shiver or two as well. I’ve seen far worse than 23:59 this year and it’s worth the price of a rental.
“23:59″ – 2.5 out of 5 shrouds.