Zhong Tonghiu, a young model with a tragic past, receives an invitation to her aunt’s funeral. Even though this aunt isn’t a blood relative, and she hasn’t seen her in years, Tonghiu still decides to go. When she arrives at her aunt’s remote mansion, strange things begin to happen. Something sinister is happening and time is running out for Tonghiu.
The Portland Horror Film Festival was lucky enough to get The Funeral for its world premiere. The film comes all the way from China and was written and directed by Yujie Qiu in her directorial debut. With an atmospheric slow-burn style, The Funeral builds suspense as a strange mystery is unraveled. When we first meet Tonghiu it is when she experiences her mother’s suicide as a child. This leads to a lifetime of nightmares that only become worse when she goes to her late aunt’s mansion. Everyone in the remote mansion seems to have some sinister motive. The tension gradually grows until the climax of the film as Tonghiu tries to discover the truth.
While The Funeral tells a compelling story, the ending takes away from the overall impact of the film. I won’t go into too much detail of the actual ending, but I will say the ending makes sense after hearing the star of the film discuss it at PHFF. Leading lady Kunjue Li traveled all the way from London to be at the world premiere of The Funeral. The way she explained it to the audience after the film, there were multiple different endings filmed and she wasn’t aware of which one was chosen until she watched it with the rest of us. The ending chosen isn’t necessarily the best option to serve the plot, but Kunjue described the many rules and regulations involved in Chinese film. There is so much censorship that it is difficult to make any film, let alone a horror film. With this in mind the end of the film makes sense, but I can’t help but wonder how different the film would have turned out if it had been filmed in a country with less censorship.
Aside from the eerie story being told, The Funeral also has fantastic performances from the small cast. Everyone does a great job adding to the tension of the film, but there is one performance that truly makes this film stand out. Leading actress, Kunjue Li (Peaky Blinders, One Child) is completely entrancing as Tonghiu. She has a gentle innocence about her, but there is strength deep within that comes out as Tonghiu’s life is threatened. Kunjue even won the “Masque Rouge Award” at this year’s PHFF, which is given to the actor or actress the festival directors believe delivered the best performance.
Much of the eeriness of this film comes not only from the plot, but from the look of the film. The film is primarily set in a gorgeous yet dark mansion secluded in the countryside. What is especially impressive about the set design is that, whether in darkness or in bright light, there is an edge that implies something is wrong. There are also lovely visuals for the various dream sequences. Many of these scenes are filmed with a very soft focus, making it simple to determine what is reality and what is a dream.
The Funeral manages to be a compelling and chilling film, despite the lengths it has to go through to get through censorship regulations. The backflips Yuje clearly went through to make this film in China only proves her talent as a writer and director. She created a film that is fascinating, has great performances, and is beautiful to look at. Unfortunately the ending of the film suffers from having to follow China’s film censorship. Without the context of that censorship, I might not have appreciated the film quite as much. I would be curious to know what some of the other endings were and I hope audiences outside of China will get the opportunity to see them.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10