With the Japanese and Korean booms in horror overshadowing other nations regionally, we don’t tend to see as many other Asian cultures represented often. The Heirloom is a Taiwanese flick from 2005 that will help flesh out any aficionado’s repertoire.

In the Yang household, there is a sole survivor from the mass murder two decades prior. When he returns from England to inherit the family mansion with his fiancée in tow, a curse seems to plague him, lurking to claim its last victim.

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Not to tread slowly, The Heirloom starts us off with a brutal introduction about a folk practice where dead fetuses are worshipped in urns and fed with the blood of their master. In exchange for being fed and protected, the “child ghost” will bring their master power or fortune. What could go wrong from such a morbid ritual?

Dance, rose petals, hanging scenes that are mostly represented by feet, and other surreal images are spread throughout the film, lending an artistic flair that I appreciated. Not quite as gorgeous as things like A Tale of Two Sisters or Lady Vengeance, it still brought extra substance and drove the emphasis on its themes home.

The acting is predominantly terse, fitting the characters and their relationship. Neither seems to really want to be in his unfamiliar, overly large home and away from their lives. Their attachments are struggling, as are their bonds with each other. The atmosphere enhances the situation perfectly, ala The Turn of the Screw. As the number of incidents increases, the couple realizes that there is more to their new home than they realized.

The “rules” of the house presented are unique and fun, the plot working in little fake outs throughout that captivated my interest. The camerawork also precipitated this vision, deploying close ups providing both trickery and interesting angles.

Woefully, the pacing is rather slow, relying less on jump scares and more on drama and visuals – a film style demanding a certain patience with value of the aesthetic. The Heirloom is better for fans that have experienced Asian cinema extensively, rather than a newbie used to fast Hollywood beats with more momentum. Although not amongst my top films, I was excited to rewatch it years later for this review – it does have some appeal at the very least.

As a positive, the wardrobe department receives my praise. Scenes tend to be separated in time period by color, and the flashbacks have lush jewel tones that really pop. The present scenes are stoic and washed out, with a very limited color palette of grey, blue, black, and other neutrals. It makes the present all the more grim when contrasted with scenes from the past, vibrant and alive, evocative of memories seared into time.

An open mind with The Heirloom is a worthy investment. The climax reveals much about the Yang family, what happened with the child ghost, and none of the twists feel forced. We also witness the two lead actors expressing intense emotion the rest of the film didn’t permit- a freedom for the actors to display their talent with intensity. Consider it another horror fan’s lesson learned: Don’t play with dead things.

 

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