All horror stories are predicated on the unknown. From jump-out-and-boo scares to the spine-tingling dread of a hidden watcher, man is frightened because of a lack of knowledge. Hence horror films are often shot in the dark (with vision crippled ,our surroundings become alien), the camera is tied to the characters point of view, and generally the director tries to disorient us through twisting plots and ambiguous characterization. While none of these points are groundbreaking, they are truths that director Chao-Bin Su should have taken into account before creating the attractive but markedly un-scary Silk.
Silk tells the tale of a team of scientists who manage to capture a child ghost using a new substance known as the Menger Sponge. The physics behind this substance are wildly convoluted, as is the team’s rationale behind researching ghosts: to discover how to isolate their energy with the Menger Sponge such that it may be used to create a large Menger Sponge which will allow man to defy the laws of nature, especially gravity.
The team is led by a mysterious crippled individual, Hashimoto, whose brooding eyes and long, sleek hair pronounce the hidden demons of his character. The plot centers around Ye Qi-Dong, a special forces policeman, whose aid is enlisted to read lips of the young spirit who is continually speaking, albeit inaudibly. The scientists hope to gain an understanding for how and why the child was killed, again flimsily justified in relation to the Menger Sponge. However, the cast must vie against a strict deadline imposed by their superiors who wish to cut the funding to a program which they deem of little worth. Furthermore, the child wraith exhibits malevolent characteristics, killing several characters and must, therefore, be handled carefully.
It bears mentioning that, without a doubt, Silk is meant to be taken as a horror flick. The cover of the DVD shows the child ghost screaming in a metal geometrical construction stained with blood. The film is compared to White Noise and The Ring and it is distributed by Tartan Extreme, a company whose lineup features horror films almost exclusively. Such marketing is problematic for a film which relies very marginally on surprise, suspense, or dread.
Very infrequently does a ghost make a sudden appearance as for the majority of the film we are presented with only a sole spirit safely contained behind the researcher’s glass containment unit. When he finally does escape a strand of ethereal silk, to which the film owes its title, he identifies his location, again thwarting any surprise. Additionally, owing to the sensory degradation of death, the ghosts do not actually see humans, rather they sense them. Such a diluted perception causes the apparitions to often lumber like Romero zombies rather than violently and quickly attack. This lethargy detracts even further from what could be scary.
The main problem with this film’s inability to scare is structural rather than aesthetic or physical. In most films of the genre, survival is the objective. With fatality emphasized in such a way, the audience’s response to their own mortality is triggered and the film becomes “scary” apropos the viewers’ identification with the plot. Silk, though, establishes the understanding of the ghost and, eventually, his salvation as the goal of the action. This is not entirely unconventional in the horror genre. Generally, though, this narrative form morphs into the survival model when the ghost or the madman exceeds what may be possibly contained or redeemed. Silk never reaches this critical point and, thus, one never really feels the hero, Qi-Dong is actually ever in danger.
As the film’s view primarily identifies with Qi-Dong, the audience’s emotional response is tied to that of Qi-Dong. As he is isolated from the possibility of death, the audience is never made to directly confront their mortality, the stakes are never high enough, and fear is never communicated.
Otherwise, the film is well done, rendered in a sleek, blue low-key lighting scheme. The acting rarely seems canned, a true success for a film of the genre, and the film proffers a surprisingly sympathetic schema regarding the ghosts. Had marketing not severed Silk’s chances of being viewed as a paranormal drama with some horror elements, it would be an exceptional instance of this sparsely populated genre.
Ever spoiled by having my filmic consciousness flourish during the reign of DVDs such as the Lord of the Rings and The Royal Tennenbaums, I find myself unimpressed by the special features of Silk. The deleted scenes and alternate ending are hokey or completely insubstantial and there was nothing visually dazzling enough for me to care enough to watch a “making-of”.