With such a delightfully intriguing premise, it’s no wonder Pang Ho-Cheung’s slasher film Dream Home (2010) has garnered such playful taglines as “A view to a kill”, “Don’t try this at home” and “What would do, if someone blocked your view?”. But don’t let cheesy puns or rhyming couplets put you off what is otherwise an altogether more sophisticated approach to a macabre topic, fusing political commentary with grisly scenes of graphic, uninhibited violence.
Josie Ho is single professional Cheng Lai-Sheung, whose lifelong desire for a home with Victoria Harbour views is consistently thwarted by Hong Kong’s prohibitively soaring property market, so she takes it upon herself to deflate the value of her dream home to within her means.
The stunning apartments of No. 1 Victoria Bay are not only the setting of her unfettered killing spree but also reveal the spoilt, consumerist lifestyle of the city’s affluent population in contrast with her own; she works two jobs selling luxury handbags and telemarketing for a bank, and her boyfriend is one of the many married male characters featured that carelessly philander and view their women as another item in their property portfolio. The pivotal moments leading up to the core murder-fest jump from 1999 to both 2004 and 2007 where, whether intentionally or not, most of the action ironically takes place the day before Halloween.
The incredibly inventive and elaborate murder scenes occur over a matter of hours; the real time scenes with a cold, muted colour palette are placed in the narrative among softer-lens flashbacks – with only the date and time documented in the corner of the screen to piece together the sequence of events. There are also blatant references to the beginning of the global economic crisis as the backdrop to her “final solution” but – while it assists in making Dream Home more timely – many feel unnecessary and a tad lazy when compared to the intrinsically satirical nature of the story’s plot..
With Ho-Cheung’s latest effort you may feel a little cheated out of a more in-depth or plausible explanation as to Cheng’s homicidal motivations. Dream Home is a horror film, not a character-driven drama, and as such morality is limited, even among the smaller roles. There are some truly sweet and tender scenes from Cheng’s childhood that attempt to expose the beginnings of her obsession, with the injustice of commercial development interests displacing people from their homes, and frequent sky-view shots of the continually evolving urban Hong Kong. But despite relating to the frustrating set backs that also occur in her life as an adult, Cheng is not a sympathetic character. Many western horror film taboos relating to her chosen victims are a seeming non-event within the story, yet still remain difficult to watch in such visceral detail.
Cheng’s actions are methodical and her killing style is callous and mercenary-like, but dare I say, refreshingly so for a female lead in a genre of film with a history of predominantly sexualised and emotionally needy or “superficially complex” protagonists, and for this Cheung’s Dream Home should be rightly applauded.