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May 7, 2014

Movie Review: House in the Alley (2012)

Written and Directed by Le-Van Kiet

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Bad decisions, young marriage and capitulating to the irrational demands of our loved ones – and NOT some spooky orphan children provide the real horror behind Vietnam’s House in the Alley. As the film ably demonstrates, arbitrary phantoms have little impact on an already disastrous situation stemming from a MOST dysfunctional marriage.

Our hero Thanh (Son Bao Tran) is a young, spineless jellyfish in his twenties who takes a most immature wife, Thao (Thanh Van Ngo). Working as a supervisor in a factory that his mother owns and manages, Thanh and Thao buy a spacious home (the home in the alley of the title). Thao suffers a bloody, hysterical miscarriage in their new home's bedroom. In order to facilitate his Thao's grieving process, the husband agrees to have the coffin of their miscarried child prominently displayed in their bedroom. BAAAAAAAAAaaaaad decision.

Things just go downhill from there. Thao grows madder by the minutes, dancing naked in the courtyard during a sudden rainstorm and then setting fire to the unused nursery. Unlike most people, Thanh decides not to seek psychological help for his bride in order to keep up appearances. There are many levels to dysfunction, they say. In the meantime, Thanh's battle axe mother berates him at every opportunity about his neglect of his family business. The workers are striking, and their company is rapidly losing its client base. He brushes mom aside in order to go binge drinking with his best buddy instead. Audience sympathy for this loser is rapidly declining by the minute.  Late at night, there are voice of ghostly children. Thanh goes snooping around, and falls from his home's roof – at a height of say, two to three stories – TWICE and doesn't seek medical attention.  

There is an apocalyptic finale of sorts – and SPOILER ALERT? Or is it? Our lead-headed couple seem hell bent on repeating the same mistakes at the film's fadeout.

The introduction of ghostly children into this film's narrative appears to be an afterthought. Their spectral presence is largely unneeded: ANY couple who think it's OK to have the coffin of their child unburied in their bedroom is asking for trouble. Previous Hong Kong Category III movies would have dropped the ghostly children altogether in order to focus on a situation that is spinning wildly out of control – most of if it due to the frankly stupid, easily misled protagonists.

As horrific as the domestic situation sounds, House in the Alley is surprisingly chaste when it comes to bloodshed. Those who are attracted to Asian Cult Cinema due to its extremes will be highly disappointed with this frankly bloodless – in more ways than one, film. On the plus side, the film features gorgeous cinematography by Joel Zepeski, the lush backdrop serving as an incongruous setting for such a sordid tale.

With an international film marketplace currently glutted with ghost stories, House in the Alley can be easily skipped for moviegoers in search of thrills and chills.


  1. Is this Thai? They can do such great extremes in their horror, from atmospheric supernatural elements to bat shit crazy gore.