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Photograph: Repossession

Why you should watch local psychological thriller Repossession

We chat with directors Goh Ming Siu and Scott C. Hillyard about all things scary ahead of the film's Singapore premiere

Cam Khalid
Written by
Cam Khalid

If there’s one thing Singaporeans love – especially during Halloween – is a gripping ghost story. And there’s plenty to get your scream on, from local ghost stories and urban legends to the most haunted places in the Little Red Dot. Even horror films provide enough fodder for your nightmares.

Turn your attention to Repossession. Set to premiere at Filmgarde Bugis+ on October 11 as part of the Singapore Chinese Film Festival, the award-winning psychological thriller sees the deadly vice of pride reimagined through the lenses of local directing duo Goh Ming Siu and Scott C. Hillyard. It follows Jim (played by Gerald Chew) whose mid-life crisis is met with losing his high-flying job in status-conscious Singapore. He finds himself hiding the truth from his family, and awakening the demon from his dark past – all at the expense of his pride.

Watching the terrifying realities of life in one of the world’s most expensive cities on the big screen sounds like the stuff of nightmares, but how does Repossession turn up the scare-o-meter to horror fans in Singapore? Ahead of its Singapore premiere, we chat with directors Goh Ming Siu and Scott C. Hillyard about making a good hair-raising movie, stories that scare them the most, and their plans for Halloween.

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What gets you excited about Singapore?
Photograph: Repossession

What gets you excited about Singapore?

Goh Ming Siu: The unique blend of peoples that gives rise to such rich cultures and food. 

Scott C. Hillyard: There's also a blend of religion and beliefs. Southeast Asia is a goldmine for folklore, and with that comes so many different stories that have been told, and are waiting to be told.

Speaking of stories, most scary stories creep out from particular dark corners. What’s the one place in Singapore that gives you goosebumps?

Ming Siu: Old Changi Hospital. I was on a shoot there once, and have no real desire to step foot in it again. 

Scott: Pulau Tekong. During National Service, I definitely encountered a number of weird things. Lockers opening by themselves, bunks getting trashed, and beds shaking in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep.


October means one thing: Halloween. How do you intend to celebrate it this year?

Scott: I’ve acted in two Resorts World Sentosa’s Halloween Horror Nights ads before, so I’ll go watch them again [laughs].

Ming Siu: Our film is having its South American premiere in a film festival in Colombia then, so that's [celebratory] enough? 

Yes, your film Repossession. What’s the inspiration behind it?

Ming Siu: The situation that Jim finds himself in was inspired by several high-profile cases of mass retrenchment in Singapore while we were conceptualizing the film. It's a very real issue that that generation faces now. They bought into the notion of the Singapore Dream and a particular route to that dream, only to be discarded once they weren’t useful. However, it isn’t just specific to Singapore. Especially with the economic fallout from this pandemic, this is taking place all over the world.

Scott: In the very early stages, the idea came from asking ourselves, "What scares you the most?" And we realised that sometimes it isn't the supernatural, but rather, everyday life, especially in a high-pressure environment like ours.


""What scares you the most?" Sometimes it isn't the supernatural, but rather, everyday life, especially in a high-pressure environment like ours."

- Scott C. Hillyard

The character Jim is known to be a prideful man, and as we know, pride can be a deadly vice. By showing the dark side of egotism, does the film aim to ‘humble’ its audience?

Scott: “Pride” is how we have it in our synopsis, but really, what we’re trying to get at is the Asian notion of “face”, and the toxicity of having that mindset dictate your actions and behaviour. It’s relevant both to the older generation, as well as to the younger ones. And sadly, with the younger generation, the problem seems to be spreading worldwide, in the form of social media profiles. 

Our goal isn’t really to humble the audience, per se, but rather, to evoke empathy for our very flawed yet believable characters. They are archetypes, but they are also drawn from real life, and audiences will be able to see someone they know or even themselves up there on the screen.


So it’s not the usual supernatural, horror flick. How would you describe it in your own words?

Ming Siu: Our film isn’t quite like any other local film out there. Usually, Singapore movies are either commercial genre films like comedy and horror, or indie films that are mostly intimate human dramas. We are a blend of social drama and psychological horror. It’s something we’ve done very deliberately, to create an arthouse horror, which is a subgenre that’s gotten a lot of attention worldwide in recent years but hasn’t really been done here. We decided to go a different route in order to carve out a niche for ourselves. 

Besides a haunting soundscape (Repossession features a brilliant score by Golden Horse Award-winning composer Teo Wei Yong), what makes a great thriller?
Photograph: Repossession

Besides a haunting soundscape (Repossession features a brilliant score by Golden Horse Award-winning composer Teo Wei Yong), what makes a great thriller?

Scott: One of the most important things about great thrillers is that you have to care. That’s the difference between a thriller or horror where you’re worried about the fate of the characters, and a slasher where you’re on the side of the killer and all you want to see are creative kills. On the storytelling front, you have to try to subvert or twist audience expectations, to lead them on a journey that surprises them at every turn, but with character choices that make sense in terms of story logic. 

Ming Sui: With the technical side of things, sound design and music are obviously pivotal to genre films. We prefer to use our jump scares very judiciously; we probably have only two in our whole film. That’s because jump scares are technically quite easy to accomplish, and we are aiming for something much harder: creeping audiences out, getting under their skin, and sticking in their heads long after the film is over.


Any favourite local thriller or horror films?

Scott: The Maid (Kelvin Tong, 2005). Storytelling was great, and using local folklore in a Singaporean setting, [it hits] so close to home, [making] it scarier. 

Ming Siu: Kidnapper (Kelvin Tong, 2010). Christopher Lee gives one of his finest performances in that film, [in my honest opinion].

The film will be screened at multiple film festivals in the USA, Malaysia, and Spain. Here, it’s part of the Singapore Chinese Film Festival. Sure, it’s not the same pre-circuit breaker, but what are some of the pros and cons?

Ming Siu: We’ve been in a number of festivals internationally that were virtual. As with most things, there are pros and cons. One of the biggest advantages for viewers is simply easier accessibility, and this leads to greater inclusivity. We heard about people in the US who were first-time festival-goers because they suffered from such disability that they couldn’t step out of their homes. 

The downside for film fans, apart from not being able to enjoy the theatrical experience, is that many festivals have a reduced selection of films due to the surprisingly higher costs of transitioning to virtual (which we’ve learned from organisers), and the difficulties in getting sponsorships. This is also bad news for filmmakers because your previously slim chances of getting accepted just became even slimmer. 

Scott: For filmmakers, one advantage is that you can save on transport costs, and actually “visit” every film festival you’re accepted in, instead of having to pick and choose due to a limited travel budget. However, the amount of useful networking that you can do is also reduced in certain aspects, so it’s really hard to say whether virtual is better or worse.


What are you looking forward to the most in Phase 3?

Ming Siu: Going back to the theatre to watch a live play or performance. Otherwise, I may be weird, but I actually like social distancing. Singapore always felt too crowded to me [laughs].

Scott: More audiences being able to enjoy the film in a theatre, especially if we get local distribution. We have a sick 7.1 surround sound mix. Easing of social distancing allows us to meet more friends and family with stories to share, which allows us an insight into different worldviews, helping us in our creative processes.

Repossession will be screened at Filmgarde Bugis+ on October 11 as part of the Singapore Chinese Film Festival. A livestream Q&A session with the cast and crew will be available on the Facebook page at 10.30pm.

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