I grew up fairly well off and I became one of those kids who wistfully follows my interests through life because I never learned a sense of practicality. After all, nice homes and long resort vacations to Honolulu were just part of life, right? If things just work out that way, why don't I try my hand at whimsical tales of horror fiction? It just seems soooooo fulfilling. I mean, who'd ever toil in drudgery when they can simply follow their muses through the fields of wonder.
Things changed once my childhood started to end. My parents separated, my family lost our childhood home, my dad lost his business, my mom lost her job in the recession, we lost our home in California, and things just got really sucky for a bunch of years. I'm sure people who had it worse than I did feel a certain sense of schadenfreude from our problems and I will always acknowledge how fortunate we were when I was very young, but it sucked. It really really sucked.
It was tough for me to adapt once things started to change. Suddenly there were elements in my life I couldn't take for granted anymore and I had to figure out a way to make good things happen. It's been tough, though. I have lived in a procession of tiny, communal spaces. Some were good, some weren't, but I'd still love to have a place to call my own.
I probably wouldn't murder people to get it, though.
Dream Home starts with one of the most graphic and horrifying murders I've ever seen committed to film. The killer is a meek bank employee, the victim is a security guard in a posh high rise. After killing the guard, she kills the security camera feed and massacres her way through the office complex. Her motive? Lower the property values enough that she can afford to buy a home there.
The film switches back and forth between the killer's day-to-day life and the night of her big murder spree. As a killer she's a a brutal pitiless monster, but I was never completely off her side. Part of it is due to actor Josie Ho's portrayal of the character's vulnerability. Cheng Lai-sheung is smart and ambitious but she simply doesn't have the means to get what she wants. Her coworkers fritter away money on hedonistic trips to Kabukichō but she saves every penny, works two jobs, and takes care of her ailing father. She's doing exactly what you're supposed to do to succeed but she never gets anywhere.
We get the sense that Cheng has been run over her entire life. Her family was evicted from her childhood home by Triad thugs so developers could build high priced condos, her mother died too young, her father stubbornly refuses to take care of himself, and her coworkers are pushy and unambitious. Even her love life is a hot mess. The most heartbreaking scene in the movie is her liaison with her married boyfriend. She rents a hotel room on an hourly rate and picks up dessert for the two of them. They sleep together, he sneaks away in the morning, and she finds out that he stuck her with the other half of the hotel bill. The final image of the scene is her on the ferry ride home, eating both desserts.
Cities can be very lonely places and Dream Home portrays Hong Kong as cramped, unaffordable, and ugly. In those circumstances, who wouldn't dream of something better?
As sympathetic as I was to Cheng's plight, I have never rooted for slasher victims harder.
The violence in Dream Home is somewhere between parodied and sickening. It's not a typical slasher movie where people shut down immediately after being attacked. They crawl and beg for mercy but she dispatches them with merciless efficiency. I did like the blue-collar implications of her using tools from her construction worker father's tool belt, but it means that people need a few whacks from a sledgehammer before they expire. It's ugly work.
I'm told that there were some behind-the-camera arguments between actress/producer Josie Ho and director Pang Ho-cheung about how farcical they wanted the violence to be and the end result falls somewhere in the middle. It's graphic and most of the people don't really have it coming. Asian horror tends to do squicky violence really well and I liked the counterbalance between Cheng's quiet life and the crimes she committed.
Dream Home is very much an economic horror film. The recent financial crisis plays a big part of the backdrop of the movie and it's a tale of haves and have-nots. In that way, it's more relatable than a lot of horror films with more esoteric subject matter. I'm not afraid of vampires or being possessed by the devil. I am afraid of being broke as fuck forever. I'm afraid of my student loans, I'm afraid of my career path leading me to destitution, I'm afraid of struggling to live in places that I love and never getting anywhere.
I want a place to call my own. I want something comfortable, with a beautiful view and an interesting neighborhood, where people I love are near me and I can feel safe.
I'm not saying I agree with what Cheng Lai-sheung did. But I understand.