May 21, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Le Van Kiet
Vietnamese with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of Vietnam, the horror film “The Ancestral” features an all-Vietnamese cast of characters representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: After the tragic death of his wife, a widower takes his two underage daughters to live in an abandoned ancestral mansion, which appears to be haunted by ghosts.
Culture Audience: “The Ancestral” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of horror movies about ghosts and haunted houses.
“The Ancestral” overcomes repetitive clichés in movies about haunted houses, by delivering an intriguing plot twist in the last third of the movie. Spooky jump scares, convincing visual effects and good acting make “The Ancestral” an effective horror film. “The Ancestral” does a lot with a relatively small number of people in its cast. It’s a movie that could have gone down a predictable route, but it keeps viewers guessing over what will happen until the very last scene. Viewers should stick around for a mid-credits scene that shows the fate of one of the characters.
Written and directed by Le Van Kiet, “The Ancestral” (which takes place in an unnamed part of Vietnam) begins with a widower named Thanh (played by Quang Tuấn) driving himself and his two underage daughters to an abandoned and dilapidated mansion, which is described as an ancestral family home. Elder daughter Linh (played by Lâm Thanh Mỹ), who’s about 14 or 15 years old, is a serious and responsible child who has essentially become the female head of the household. Younger daughter Yen (played by Mai Cát Vi) is more outgoing and playful than Linh.
The family is grieving over the death of Thanh’s wife, who was the mother of Linh and Yen. Thanh’s wife died a year before for reasons that are later explained in the movie. Even though this ancestral mansion is dark, run-down and very creepy-looking, Thanh has decided that they are going to move there for a change of scenery. He thinks that this change of environment will help all three of them heal from their grief.
However, the house is a less-than-ideal place to raise two children. There is no electricity in the house. And it’s the type of abandoned place that has been neglected for so long, many things in the house look rusty and worn-down. And as is typical for a haunted house in a horror movie, it’s also in an isolated area, where there doesn’t seem to be any neighbors around for miles.
Not long after moving into their new home, Thanh tells his daughters: “It’s just the three of us now.” He also tells Linh that she has to look after Yen when he’s not there. The movie never details what Thanh does for a living, but he’s often away during the day. He plans to have Linh and Yen homeschooled, so he later introduces them to a pretty young woman named Ms. Hanh (played by Diệu Nhi), whom he says will be the girls’ tutor.
Strange things start happening immediately after the family gets settled in the house. Linh and Yen both start to see various people in the house. And these people appear to be ghosts. Some of them are shadowy apparitions that run across a room and disappear. Others run on all fours and then attack before Linh and Yen wake up, as if it was all a bad dream.
And these sighting don’t just happen at night. In an eerie and chilling scene, Linh is outside in the house yard as she hangs laundered sheets to dry. She starts to see human faces pressed against the sheets. But when she looks behind the sheets, no one is there. And then what appears to be an old lady, who has matted hair and black teeth, attacks Linh before running away. This time, Yen saw this ghost too.
Adding to the terror, Yen starts to sleepwalk. And sometimes she appears to be experiencing paralysis during a nightmare where she can’t wake up unless someone vigorously shakes her. Yen and Linh tell their father about these scary incidents, but he dismisses it all has the girls having bad dreams. Thanh tells his daughters: “There are no such things as ghosts and demons.”
Ms. Hanh is kind and sympathetic to Yen and Linh. This tutor also seems to be spending a lot of time with Thanh, which leads Yen to joke that maybe their father and Ms. Hanh will end up dating each other. Ms. Hanh also goes out of her way to show that she wants to befriend the girls, and not just be their tutor.
One day, Thanh surprises the girls by showing them a new, more modern home where they will be moving to in the near future. Yen and Linh each has her own bedroom in this new home. Ms. Hanh has even gone to the trouble of decorating each of the girls’ bedrooms, according to the tastes of each girl.
But this seemingly idyllic new living situation is hindered as more haunting incidents occur. These ghost sightings and jump scares become a little tiresome after a while when it’s just a repeat of the girls getting scared, and their father not really doing anything about it but comforting them and telling them that ghosts aren’t real. By the middle of movie, viewers might be frustrated that nothing much is being done in plot development.
But viewers who are patient enough to stick around for the last third of the movie will be rewarded with some compelling twists and turns. Lâm Thanh Mỹ and Mai Cát Vi give very good performances as loyal sisters Linh and Yen, whose sibling relationship is at the heart of the movie. There’s a little bit of melodrama in a climactic “life or death” scene, but this melodrama doesn’t lessen the impact of the suspense that ramps up in this last section of the movie. “The Ancestral” has its best moments when it shows that even in the devastation of grief, there is always hope for healing.
T2 Group released “The Ancestral” in select U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022. The movie was released in Vietnam on March 18, 2022, and in Malaysia and Singapore on March 24, 2022.