Review: Taiwan’s “The Funeral” Tries Mixing Family With Thrills and Horror

Taiwanese horror-thriller film “The Funeral'' is more fittingly enjoyed as a family drama with scary elements.

By , 15 Jul 22 02:03 GMT
Courtesy of Pinocchio Films.

The Funeral aims to be both thriller and horror film, but ends up providing little in the way of either. Nonetheless, the Taiwanese production manages to be atmospheric, and is probably more effective when interpreted as a character-driven drama rather than a thriller or horror movie.

The film follows Chun-hua, a middle-aged supermarket worker with a teenage daughter. As a single mother, Chun-hua struggles to hold down a job to care for her daughter, and begins to suffer from recurring nightmares.

Chun-hua is called home, however, following the death of her grandfather—the only person she was close to in her family, apart from her grand-uncle. “Close” is a matter of perspective though; neither her grandfather or grand-uncle have even met Chun-hua’s daughter. Despite this, Chun-hua decides to return for her grandfather’s funeral anyway. At this funeral, supernatural elements enter the story. As it turns out, there is more to the death and funeral than meets the eye. Chun-hua’s family’s hostility towards her, too, has its hidden motives.

Courtesy of Pinocchio Films.

The Funeral manages to establish an effective mise-en-scène, with discolored shots of supermarket aisles or family gathering rooms. Overall, the film is tinged a sickly slight green, whether in Chun-hua’s family’s countryside home or the interior Taipei environments that it starts out in.

At the same time, the film’s special effects leave something to be desired. When those special effects come into play, they primarily depict something supernatural—but the quality of the CGI and make-up is simply too poor to make this terrifying in any way. That being said, the film does manage to convey dread effectively through its camerawork, and avoids reliance on cheap surprises for scare factor.

In terms of plot, The Funeral can be situated alongside Incantation (咒) as another contemporary Taiwanese horror film that vests a family drama with supernatural significance. That this seems to be a recurring theme of contemporary Taiwanese horror perhaps says something about how young people view social pressure from their families. Like Incantation, The Funeral also focuses on the relationship between a mother and daughter.

Courtesy of Pinocchio Films.

But again, the strengths of The Funeral are primarily from the drama between Chun-hua and her parents or other family members, even if it may not have been the film’s intention to be a family drama. Indeed, one suspects The Funeral would have been stronger if it had simply been a family drama that used the aesthetics of haunting.

While hampered by a weak script that features wooden interactions between characters and few hints of unpredictable shifts in characterization, the acting chops of The Funeral’s protagonists still come through. Though once again playing the angry, stern, and initially unsympathetic family patriarch that he is often typecast as, Chen Yi-wen–who played the father in A Sun to critical acclaim–manages a well-rounded performance.

Courtesy of Pinocchio Films.

Selina Ren also gives a respectable performance as protagonist Chun-hua, though the character is written with too little dramatic range. Chun-hua is depicted as a caring but somewhat disciplinarian parent. There could have been plenty of potential to develop her along the lines of the obsessively controlling mother from 2018’s Dear Ex, or even to draw parallels between her own behavior and that of her father—yet this does not take place.

To this extent, The Funeral’s conclusion is weak, and significantly undercuts the rest of the film. This proves more than a matter of failing to stick the ending; the film explains away Chun-hua’s family’s behaviors in ridiculous, strange, and overall uncreative ways.

Given its lack of compelling thrills or horror elements, The Funeral will not exactly appeal to lovers of horror, or those simply in search of a good thriller. It does well enough for at least its first hour, before unraveling in its conclusion.

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The Funeral (Chinese: 頭七)—Taiwan. Dialog in Mandarin Chinese. Directed by Shen Dan-Quei. First released April 1, 2022. Running time 1hr 43min. Starring Selina Ren, Chen Yi-wen, Na Dow, Bella Wu. 

This article is part of Cinema Escapist‘s dedicated coverage of the 2022 New York Asian Film Festival.

This article was also published in No Man Is An Island, an online publication focused on the connections between everyday life and politics. No Man Is An Island is brought to you by the team behind New Bloom Magazine.

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