1942 (2005)

Rating: C

Dir: Kelvin Tong
Star: Toshihide Onizuka, Seiichirô Ôkawa, Tetsuya Chihiro, Fumikazu Hara

Malaya, in the thick of World War II. A small group of Japanese soldiers find themselves separated from the main body of their comrades, but do pick up a cameraman, similarly separated from his battalion. However, as they try to find the rest of their troops, things start to get strange; they find themselves going in circles, the cameraman keeps seeing soldiers through his lens, who can never be located, and a female voice singing an eerie song percolates through the night. What’s going on? Well, if you’ve read the publicity, that will probably have spoiled this for you, making the twist at the end less a surprise than a foregone conclusion. And that’s a shame, since there’s a solid amount of unsettling imagery, with the film’s closest relative perhaps being The Blair Witch Project.

As there, the cast being relative unknowns adds to the atmosphere, and Tong is good at cranking up the atmosphere; the tensions build effectively, as the group starts to unravel. The main problem is, the ending will not be a shock to anyone who has paid any attention to popular cinema for the last decade – and I mean, “any”, in that having a pulse is sufficient to qualify you there. This doesn’t entirely derail the film, but largely thanks to the surprise endings of M.Night Shyamalan, this kind of thing is now almost impossible to pull off. You need an impeccable script, and that just isn’t present here. There’s still enough that the viewer won’t feel totally cheated, but when the makers choose to put all their eggs into the ‘twist’ basket, they are gambling they can pull it off: in this case, they’ve come up just short.