Grief is a strange thing. In horror films such as Ju-On, The Ring and most recently The Babadook, viewers learn that the reason for malevolent spirits is due to this very emotion.
The sad spirit of a former person manifests itself into unsightly beings and causes havoc on other living beings.
Director Van M. Pham explores the connection between grief and manifestations of evil in his new Vietnamese horror film Conjuring Spirit, which opens in Malaysia this week. In the film, author Lan decides to leave her cheating husband and move into a new home with her five-year-old son.
But the pain of betrayal continues to haunt Lan and she begins taking medication to improve her mental state. She starts to experience real nightmares when a mysterious music box appears in her home. Lan believes something evil is coming from the music box.
In a transcript provided by Ram Entertainment, the film’s distributor in Malaysia, actress Phuong Mai (who plays the role of Lan) revealed that she was spooked on the set of Conjuring Spirit. So much so that her on-screen nightmares made her sleepless in real life.
“I was haunted in my sleep!” Phuong said.
The actress attributed her nightmares to the film’s gloomy set and ingenious props such as corpses created by the production design team. She described the mood on the set as “uncomfortable” for a cowardly person like her.
Then there’s the music box.
“I still feel creeped out by the sound of the spooky music box. When filming was over, I had to get out of the set immediately and ‘release’ myself from my character in places where there are a lot of light.”
Despite her fears, Phuong – who made her debut as a leading actress in Conjuring Spirit (previously she had supporting roles in The Talent and How To Fight In Six Inch Heels) – said she is grateful for the experience.
“I’ve always been typecast as a shrewish and cunning character. For Conjuring Spirit, I got to know the pressure of being a writer and experience the life of a woman who is married with one child. Also, to feel what it’s like to be haunted.”
Just like Phuong, filmmaker Van is also making some kind of debut. Conjuring Spirit is his first Vietnamese-language feature after the American production Beyond The Mat. The initial plan was for Conjuring Spirit to be a comedy-driven horror film.
Van shared: “I wanted to create an appealing film that have both scary and exciting moments as well as a little bit of comedy. The original script called for 20% horror elements and 80% comedy. Then we changed the film’s structure and I got the ideal movie.”
Van studied a few other Vietnamese horror films to learn what to avoid when making his own movie.
“I saw some regrettable things such as the actors not showing enough emotions through facial expressions or body movement. When shooting Conjuring Spirit, I strictly limited the dialogue just to not make my audience feel ‘annoyed’.”
The film which took 42 days to shoot also stars Quang Su and Vietnamese-American actor Tien Pham as Lan’s unfaithful husband. Van is hopeful that Conjuring Spirit won’t be his last Vietnamese film.
“There is a lot of room for me in Vietnam. I hope my crew and I can bring something to Vietnamese cinema in the future.”