Inner Senses

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 08/10/05 11:25:17

"Leslie Cheung's swan song is a keeper."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Dr. Law does not believe in ghosts, but he does believe that “if you believe in ghosts, then they will exist.” He feels ghosts are nothing but the creations of the mind, fueled by a culture of ghosts stories that give the brain an impression of what ghosts should be, allowing the mind to create ghosts as it would any hallucination.

That said, are the ghosts of “Inner Senses” all within the heroine’s mind, or are they real? More importantly, is there a difference? The fact that this second question gets asked at all shows how intelligent the film lets itself become; this is no dumbed-down horror flick. It’s refreshingly smart, with a firm understanding of psychological disorders and the effect of memories and emotion on the psyche.

The film has been called by some critics as the Asian version of “The Sixth Sense.” I disagree. That title more properly belongs to “The Eye;” like “The Sixth Sense,” “The Eye” concerns itself with the torment of seeing ghosts and features a final act in which the heroes help the dead. “Inner Senses,” on the other hand, is less concerned with ghost-seeing and more concerned with characters haunted by painful memories and mental illness. The ghost scenes are saved for the beginning and end; the middle is packed with straight-up drama. Fortunately for us, both the horror of the ghost scenes and the tenderness of the drama work wonderfully.

Dr. Law is played by Leslie Cheung, the Asian superstar in his final screen role (he committed suicide in 2003, a fact which adds an extra bit of underlying freakiness to the movie). Law, a successful psychiatrist, is introduced in a lengthy scene in which he lectures on the nonexistence of ghosts, a touchy subject, seeing as ghosts play a major role in many Asian religions.

Anyway, he’s soon given a new case: Yan Cheung (Karena Lam), a woman who insists she sees ghosts. Does she really see them, or all they all in her mind, just part of the mental illness that cripples her, leading to depression, insomnia, and repeated suicide attempts? And since Yan has a history of falling hard for men, will she fall for Dr. Law as well?

The film features some nifty surprises pretty much all the way through, with the plot veering off into unexpected territory, so I’m reluctant to discuss any more of the story. I will say that the movie never settles for the usual, keeping us on our toes with... well, I hate to call them “twists,” as they’re not shocks as much as they are plot turns that avoid predictability.

The screenplay deftly juggles various notions of ghosts, looking at phantoms from clinical and religious angles, all the while suggesting that they’re quite real indeed. If not real to the world, then at least real to the character, and that’s real enough. As the movie progresses, the movie becomes less concerned with proving if the ghosts do in fact exist. As part of this story, their absolute reality becomes only an insignificant detail.

Like “The Eye,” “Inner Senses” finds itself working with far more emotional weight than the typical horror film. The final scenes are ones of immense sadness, with a ghost becoming a symbol of a bad memory that lingers too long - that haunts, if you’ll pardon the pun. There’s a great pain here, lending the film a delicacy that’s both surprising and quite remarkable in its impact.

There are, of course, some great cringe-inducing moments, thanks to some eerie ghost imagery, a few well-timed jump-scares, and plenty of unsettling atmospherics (the “creaking” sound of a moving ghost is brilliant), so if you’re looking for a good scream, “Inner Senses” will do just fine. But this movie is more than that. It’s concerned with the creation of ghosts, with the reasons for their being, with the inner horror they create. By internalizing spirits, “Inner Senses” becomes a horror movie that hits hard and deep, making it a memorable horror experience.

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