Jim (Gerald Chew) is an engineer in Singapore, living the high life with his wife, Linda (Amy Cheng), and daughter, Ashley (Rachel Wan). The two of them want for nothing — expensive clothes, high-rise apartment, fancy meals. He’s a 50-year-old who has it made. Until he loses his job. Suddenly, the bills come due in a way he hadn’t known for most of his adult life. How can he face his wife, his daughter, his friends, his former coworkers? Cast out of the upper-class existence he knew, Jim struggles to make ends meet without telling his family. Oh, and there’s a pesky spirit that seems to be following him, borne from a childhood incident he only remembers through fragmented nightmares.
Repossession (co-directed and written by Ming Siu Goh and Scott C. Hillyard) is a slow-burn midlife-crisis ghost story that mostly works, in part because the creative team is able to tap into the interior desolation that comes with tipping over the edge of despair. Chew is great in his role as Jim. His fears are relatable, and his solutions understandable and sad. As a character study of a middle-aged man lost in the wilderness of modern society, this is pretty successful.
As a horror film, though, it leaves something to be desired. The emotional core of the story is Jim’s awful journey through something very tactile and real. When the ghosts start appearing, they somehow feel less terrifying than his ongoing experience. The visual design of the specters is fine, and the use of shadow and unseen terrors is skillfully done, but they feel superfluous to the story.
Those seeking straightforward horror might find Repossession a bit too slow to get off the ground. It is largely about the destruction of Jim’s self-worth as he’s repeatedly unable to make ends meet and repo notices start appearing in his mail. The secrets kept in a world that has no sympathy for his plight give it a natural dramatic intensity.
Goh and Hillyard’s film is also gorgeous, capturing Singapore with an eye for arresting imagery. The cinematography helps tell the story, even when it’s just Jim driving passengers around in his private car. One scene in particular, where he’s forced to drive around his daughter and her drunk friends, is impressively done.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite nail the ending, which segues into full horror. It’s not that the story, which establishes Jim’s flaws, doesn’t naturally build up to that ending; it’s just that it feels out of place in an otherwise quiet, haunting and very deeply real story.
Still, this is a local production that looks like a high-budget picture, held together by some great performances in roles that call mainly for thoughtful quiet rather than loud emotion. Although not perfect, Repossession is still a good example of arresting independent filmmaking.