After laying low for three years since his last movie, KIDNAP (2007), it's a relief to see director Lo Chi-Leung has finally returned to his INNER SENSE (2002)-like supernatural horror roots with his highly-anticipated comeback genre, CURSE OF THE DESERTED. And at the first glance, the movie sounds like a promising setup -- a supernatural horror in the vein of M. Night Shyamalan-style with a dash of romantic angle. But (very) surprisingly, the movie is a major disappointment it's almost hard to believe this is the work of a veteran filmmaker like Lo Chi-Leung.
Shawn Yue is Gene, a successful writer who recently publishes a highly-popular novel called "The Deserted Village". It's a horror-romance story about a village in the form of a remote mansion which has been cursed for the past 500 years and haunted by the jilted widow Rouge (Shi Liuyi). According to the legend, Rouge was once set herself into the fire with her husband after he is burned to death by some superstitious villagers. Although Gene keeps insisting his novel is a work of pure fiction, four college students -- Fanny (Liu Shuhan), Rain (Qin Zihan), Timmy (Dai Xu) and John (Li Zefeng) -- begs to differ and they plan to uncover the truth themselves. Nevertheless, bad things happen to them once they set their foot into the haunted mansion. True to the legend, they are punished with a deadly curse for infidelity against each other. In the meantime, Gene is constantly harassed by someone claiming to be Rouge via online chat and apparently upset over the way he writes the story. But soon the person harassing Gene turns out to be his ex-girlfriend, Gigi (Kitty Zhang) who just wants to freak him out because she's a descendant of the people who own the particular village. When Gene and Gigi starts to find out four college students are meeting their inevitable doom, they decide to visit the village in hope to find the answer with the help of Gene's paranormal scientist, Tru (Yue Xiaojun). Apparently Tru claims there is strong electromagnetic field at the village, and whoever interacting with it able to cause a person to experience delusional illness.
Despite its creepy setting, CURSE OF THE DESERTED isn't particularly scary at all. Here, director Lo Chi-Leung seems to be seriously thinking that throwing cheap gimmicks like amplified sound effects and the typical jump scare will do the trick. While there are few times, Lo Chi-Leung still knows how to place neat camera angles for this kind of genre, none of them really matters since everything appears so lackluster.
The other problem is Cheung Chi-Kwong's schizophrenic plot which tries too hard to bend different genre one after another but doesn't generate enough satisfying payoff. While the horror factor is awfully cliched, the whole "curse of love" angle is even tedious to the point of near intolerance. Perhaps Lo Chi-Leung isn't particularly an ideal filmmaker to spin a story about romance because it's just too corny and melodramatic. The second half is especially a slow drag -- in which we witness how these characters (particularly involving Gene and Gigi in numerous flashbacks) expressing their love for each other; how they will not take each other for granted; and how "love is not a game where it is not meant to be tested". Make no mistake, the romance angle seems like going on forever you'll be looking at your watch all the time.
To make things worst than already is, the climactic ending is a further disappointment with a payoff ala THE RING-style that won't send your heart racing other than putting you to sleep. Topping it off is the filmmakers decide to insult the viewers' intelligence by smacking one of the worst cop-out endings ever seen. It's a kind of sudden twist ending in the vein of THE SIXTH SENSE but totally devoid of logical explanation -- it's just there for the sake of it -- and the ending alone is basically making everything that comes before it is completely irrelevant. What an absolute waste of time that will make you feel cheated and frustrated.
Pity for credible actors like Shawn Yue and Kitty Zhang, who are both wasted with their pedestrian performances. It's really hard to believe but this movie is really one of the worst movies of the year.