Magnolia Pictures // 2012 // 78 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // July 11th, 2013
Time to die.
It's 1983 and a group of soldiers stationed on an island in Malaysia are telling ghost stories. One happens to center on a lady who died on the atoll, her death time -- 23:59 -- becoming a bellwether for her spirit will rise to terrorize. This information spooks the weak willed Tan (Tedd Chan) who believes he is being targeted by the ghost. His best friend Jeremy (Henley Hii) thinks he's crazy. He also thinks part of his fear stems from the cruel treatment he faces at the hands of barracks brute Dragon (Lawrence Koh). Jeremy tries to protect his pal, but not at the expense of his time in the service. During a late night march through the jungle, something horrible happens. Before we know it, another soldier is seemingly possessed and our hero starts to believe in the legend of the lost lady, and her nightly return to claim more souls...or something like that.
This is not meant to be racist, or a cultural overgeneralization, but Asians sure do love ghost stories. Almost every horror film that comes out of the East centers on the spirit world and its (usually deadly and terrifying) interaction with reality. It is clearly linked to their heritage, their religious beliefs, and some very long standing traditions. 23:59 is no different. It's an incredibly short (less than 80 minutes) scarefest which dwells almost exclusively with one of those by now cliched vengeful specters who show up to send slight, subdued shivers up the spines of all those who come into her fear sphere of influence. The military setting may be novel, as is the Malaysian island backdrop. Even the opening bits where Jeremy explains his possible psychic abilities (and his dad's con artist use of same) sets us up for something slightly different. But then 23:59 remembers it has also created a mythos (those who die at said time return to haunt the living...yadda...yadda...yadda...) and needs to stick with it.
So out goes any real character development (Tan is a wuss, Dragon in a bullying thug wannabe, etc.) or plot twists. Instead, our troops head out onto the trail, one of them winds up dead, and the rest have to deal with the supernatural blowback from same. It's all very hackneyed and Horror 101 The only thing keeping our interest is the novel backdrop and the often effective atmosphere of dread., and since it's over in little more than an hour, we don't feel like we've wasted our time for such a small payoff. Apparently, when making a fright flick for this specific demo, all you need is legend, a languid setting, and some long black hair. When J-Horror was all the rage, you couldn't find a ghost who wasn't a brooding brunette or a cat squealing kid. Now, more than a decade removed from its heyday, such spirits seem as hokey as the stop motion werewolf make-up effect from the Universal films of yesteryear. Still, 23:59 has its positives. They don't add up to much, but they do go by quickly and efficiently.
When you consider that most of this movie is set at night, and in some very dark recesses of same, the 1.79:1 transfer isn't so bad. Yes, it suffers from a significant loss of detail during our moments of murkiness, as well as some artifacting and other HD anomalies. But the muted color scheme comes across rather well and the overall presentation is polished and professional. As for sound, the lack of any real immersion makes the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 track seem rather pointless. You'd expect the speakers to jump during the ghost sequences and any trip through the jungle would have the channels choosing between spatial and actual ambience. But none of that is present. Just clean Mandarin dialogue (with good English subtitles) and a slight, relatively insignificant score. As for added content, a 23 minute making-of is spoiler heavy, even if it offers insights into the "true story" suggested on the cover art. We also get to see a pair of relatively effective trailers. That's all.
If you don't mind its relatively redundant horror ideas, 23:59 will get under your skin, if only a little. It's not a bad example of the genre, just another in a long line of ghost stories that have long since lost their mainstream macabre impact.
Not guilty. A decent little horror film which offers limited scares but lots
of local color.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Mandarin)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R