Dream Home (2010)

Director: Pang Ho Cheung
Writer: Pang Ho Cheung
Cast: Josie Ho, Michelle Ye, Eason Chan, Norman Chu, Juno Mak, Lawrence Chou & others
Studio: IFC Midnight
Special Features: The Making of: Building Your Dream Home & Trailer

All of us at one point or another, though most likely when we were young, were told something along the lines of: “You can do anything if you put our mind to it.” It’s a common cliché, to be sure, but it’s meant to encourage us to never settle for anything less then exactly what we want. It suggests that no matter how impossible something seems or what obstacles stand in our way, if we try hard enough, we can achieve our dreams. While I highly doubt anyone who’s ever given such advice had in mind what Sheung does to achieve her dream, the sentiment is still there… just covered in blood and intestines.

Cheng Lai-sheung (Ho) is a young woman from a working class family still struggling to survive in Hong Kong’s unforgiving economic climate. She works two jobs, never spends frivolously despite opportunities to join colleagues for fun and has only one relationship outside of work, which is a superficial affair with a married man (Chan). She makes all of these sacrifices in the hopes that one day she’ll have saved enough money to purchase a decent flat with a view of the Victoria Harbour – a dream she’s held onto her whole life.

Through all of her struggles and countless pleas by her lender to look at more affordable properties, Sheung finally manages to find a flat she wants – her “dream home”. Just when she’s ready to close on the property – her deposit is already in place – the owners unexpectedly increase the asking price. But Sheung’s worked too hard to lose her dream once again, so she concocts a ruthless plan and executes it with merciless efficiency.

Dream Home is a slasher film with a social conscience. It’s also proof that original slasher films are still a possibility. It highlights several slasher conventions – nudity, gore, creative kills, etc. are all on display – yet social commentary and ambitious characterization elevate the film above the trash commonly tagged “slasher” these days.

The film’s statements on the inflated housing prices in Hong Kong are heavy-handed, but they’re no less poignant. A bit of text at the film’s onset shares statistics regarding the cost of housing in Hong Kong, and it paints a dire picture. Director Pang Ho Cheung is right to point his camera at this injustice, as a whole generation of Chinese are working towards a largely unachievable necessity. The reality of Sheung’s situation, which is complicated by additional struggles, also allows us to identify with her. But while we can identify with her because of the universal struggles she deals with – her back story gives the film an unexpected heart – we can’t always sympathize with her due to some of the decisions she makes.

Sheung, who’s played masterfully by Josie Ho, is the rare character that’s both protagonist and antagonist – victim and killer. The film’s fractured narrative highlights her dichotomy. We watch her kill several people in the course of one night while occasional flashbacks provide the answers to how she arrived at where she’s at. It’s a bold approach that allows Sheung to gain sympathy as the film plays, but a couple of decisions work against her: 1) she doesn’t kill the people directly responsible for her housing crisis – she kills innocents; and 2) the film’s ugliest kill is committed on a woman who’s particularly undeserving of her fate. The film recovers, however, and we’re quickly on Sheung’s side again as she rips through victim after victim.

And rip through victims she certainly does. Dream Home is incredibly gory with every kill imaginative and on display. It has it all: eye-popping, gut-spilling, board-impaling and plenty of other crimson-splashing mayhem. It’s obvious the filmmakers spent time trying to create kills we’ve never seen before, and their efforts pay off, as every kill is worthy of an audible “fuck yes.” Many of the kills are also made ugly by how Sheung fumbles her way through each one. She isn’t a sociopath nor does she want to kill these people, so she struggles.

With a common criticism of many slasher films being a lack of story, Dream Home hits the right balance of on-screen carnage and engaging story. As a result, it’s one of the best horror films to hit DVD this year.