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REPOSSESSION Manifests the Anxiety of Middle-Class Singaporeans into a Tense and Unnerving Fare

19 December 2019

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REPOSSESSION Manifests the Anxiety of Middle-Class Singaporeans into a Tense and Unnerving Fare

Jim is a middle-aged executive who’s just lost his job, but hides it from his wife and daughter due to pride. When an evil force threatens his family, he must fight for their survival – in every sense.

Directors: Goh Ming Siu, Scott C. Hillyard 

Cast: Gerald Chew, Amy Cheng, Sivakumar Palakrishnan, Rachel Wan

Year: 2019

Country: Singapore

Language: English, Mandarin, Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien

Runtime: 96 minutes


Repossession takes a swerve off the well-trodden road of Asian horror with an atmospheric nightmare based on a middle-aged man’s descent into madness. The film’s title, functioning as a double entendre, is indicative of its blend of horror and drama. A shadowy demonic figure lurks around the corners of the film but the real horror – ironically – mainly comes in the form of the societal realities of cut-throat Singapore. 

This blend between genres and theme harkens to contemporaries such as Thailand’s smash-hit Ladda Land, and I felt that Repossession is a solid addition to the burgeoning subgenre. Repossession successfully manifests the anxiety of Singaporeans into a sophicatedly tense and unnerving fare built on the back of patient atmosphere development.

50-year-old Jim (Gerald Chew) is the central subject of the film, following his reckless decisions after being unceremoniously laid off from his high-paying executive position. He dabbles in high-risk stock trading and refuses to tell his wife, Linda (Amy Cheng), and teenage daughter, Ashley (Rachel Wan), about his situation while only confiding in his old army buddy, Vinod (Sivakumar Palakrishnan).

The film does succinctly detail the harsh realities of the last legs of Singapore’s rat race – even brilliantly at times, through subtle shots such as Jim walking through a bee line of young colleagues after being laid off. On the bigger picture, Repossession also critiques the pitfalls of the valuation of material wealth in Singapore, with Jim’s descent partly fueled by his determination to keep up the facade of being in the upper class, refusing to sell his continental car and swanky penthouse.

However, with most of the plot driven by Jim’s personal weaknesses and by the film’s critique of toxic masculinity, it makes for an unlikeable character that I couldn’t sympathise with despite the literal demon haunting him. 

Meanwhile, the surrounding characters feel somewhat underdeveloped. Jim’s wife Linda should be another emotional lynchpin in the drama but I somehow felt a sense of cynicism that emanated from her narrative. Her husband is the sole breadwinner of the household and she spends her days building up a charity helping out the less fortunate. 

The other times we do see her is when she is enjoying her private pool, or unpacking volunteer goods from her husband’s expensive car; the spoils of upper-middle class life. When she does give up on volunteer work to search for a paying job, it is framed as a personal defeat and downgrade. Just like Jim, I got a sense that we are meant to hate Linda and not to sympathise with her position – it is somewhat dissonant for a horror film.

The mystery of Jim’s backstory and his relation to the monster told through flashbacks does keep the movie engaging. I liked the creature design as well – simple, faceless, and ghastly – and I appreciated the patience employed in building up the tension. However, an unlikeable protagonist ultimately causes Repossession’s horror elements to suffer. 

What does shine in Repossession are the technical aspects of the film. Confidence seeps through every frame, with sharp camera work and creative framing effortlessly building the unsettling atmosphere to emphasise the narrative. Editing feels on-point with precision-like cuts on visual and audio cues, keeping the film and mystery chugging along. 

The soundtrack done by Golden Horse Award winner for A Land Imagined, Teo Wei Yong, perfectly complements the mood – balancing between unnerving without slipping into outright harrowing and overwhelming. The top-notch work done in this regard by directors Goh Ming Siu and Scott C. Hillyard deserves all the commendation.

Repossession is a bold endeavour with an equally daring concept, scoring high marks in its technique but slightly falters in its narrative. Nevertheless, the film breathes new life into the local horror genre and is a spectacular example of the possibilities in weaving horror and drama into discussing deeply rooted societal issues.

Watch the film’s trailer here:

There's nothing Matt loves more than "so bad, they're good" movies. Except browsing through crates of vinyl records. And Mexican food.
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