Muoi: The Curse Returns is a light sequel to the 2007 Korean-Vietnamese horror film Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait. Sixteen years later, the story fails to impress and gives a rather dated impression. Along with being quite predictable, this story of love, jealousy, sisterhood, and frights is way too old-school. Although the film makes many artistic choices that look interesting and make the film aesthetically pleasing to watch, other than looking like art, there’s nothing much to it. I was quite impressed by the first 5 minutes; that looked promising until the title appeared, but it doesn’t really go downhill from there; it just sluggishly moves from one plot point to the next with no real depth to any of it. For those wondering, it can be a standalone watch if you’re interested in looking at something pretty with a couple of gruesome scenes on a Sunday evening.
Muoi: The Curse Returns follows the story of two estranged best friends who meet each other at a funeral. Hong is living alone in a faraway town and invites Linh over because they’ve met after many years. The house she now lives in belongs to a famous painter. Both girls are artists themselves, and Linh is intrigued by the idea. Soon she is convinced to go to Hong’s house because she seems unwell and traveling alone by bus to a faraway place could be dangerous. But little does she know the sinister space that awaits her and the haunted house that will change her life forever. Both actresses, Hong Anh, and Chi Pu, are excellent in their respective roles for the little bit they’re allowed to do with their characters. Although the plot seems interesting, the run time is too short for us to develop any actual feelings towards the characters, who jump from one emotion to the next like they’re running a hurdle race. The curse itself falls short of forming any kind of frightening effect to make the rest of the story work. The movie definitely takes notes from the extremely successful and thrilling A Tale of Two Sisters, but it fails to capture any attention like its inspiration. Additionally, for a horror movie, other than jump scares, there isn’t much that would “horrify” a viewer at all, and with the odd pacing, you might be too bored to even notice a wandering ghost.
The movie attempts to parallel the story of the modern age with that of the centuries-old tale that created the curse in the first place, but unamusingly, the paths do not change at all, making it look like the same story again and again. Additionally, the cringe-fest of the storyline of best friends fighting over a man really doesn’t do anything for an audience today. There is a particular character who is present throughout the entire film, but her climax is so rushed and almost incomplete that it looks like it was forgotten and added at the last minute. If you look at the poster of the film with the five leading women of the story, it definitely gives the impression that all of these women have intersecting stories that lead to a resulting sisterhood—possibly a better outcome from the whole shenanigans, but I digress. Instead, we get a couple of stories of infidelity that lead to obvious conclusions. Visually, Muoi is charming, and the haunted house, which is supposed to have a mind of its own, is beautiful to look at in a “haunted house in the woods” kind of way. Even the jump scares can be seen from miles ahead with the pacing and the background score, which are straight out of 2007. The “exorcism” in the film appears to take hints from the recent Thai horror film “The Medium” but fizzles out in feelings, scares, and meaning within 5 seconds of the scene. Not to mention, just because the long hair and white dress work for films like The Ring and The Grudge doesn’t mean they have to be replicated for every “curse” film.
The first act is the most compelling of the film, which builds an interesting premise of wanting to know what happened between these best friends, who are like sisters, and what happened all those years ago back in the house. It’s like cracking an egg that is empty on the inside. There is nothing unsettling about Muoi: The Curse Returns, except for the time I spent waiting for something special to happen. It isn’t even like I went in with any expectations, hoping for a breakthrough horror movie a week after the gore fest that was Evil Dead Rise, but if a horror fan is looking for something on their one off-day to relax at home, Muoi is going to be extremely underwhelming. I do not deny the fact that it had the potential to be a good horror movie, but it turned out to be boring and incomplete instead.
The middle act switches the pace of the film completely, leaving the viewer disoriented (not in the way that horror movies want you to feel sometimes), leading to a hurried last act that doesn’t even feel like a climax. Not only does the big reveal fall short of frightening the viewer, but it also comes with so many other reveals that it gets lost within seconds of showing up. The last act is pure chaos and loses the entire thrill of figuring out what actually happened with Muoi because of the dozen hints given throughout the film. It was like reading a failed Taylor Jenkins Reid novel; you know there’s going to be a big twist, but it almost feels fake. Maybe it’s the oversaturation of horror in my mind because I’ve watched so many at this point or the fact that I can see twists coming, but Muoi: The Curse Returns will not have me returning for anything. Also, for a film that is about an artist and a cursed painting, even though there was art scattered across the film, it felt like a negligible detail. The traditional outfits are a highlight, but the use of black and white for good vs. evil makes it look almost juvenile.
My concluding thoughts on Muoi: The Curse Returns are that good cinematography and cliche horror tropes do not trump a well-crafted storyline for the genre that gets gratuitous shade but adds to the failing impression of said shade. Familiarity isn’t necessary for thrills, and that’s the biggest flaw of Muoi: The Curse Returns, which doesn’t attempt even for a second to be new or break the rules—a helping hand in the given genre. I could say I enjoyed some parts of Muoi: The Curse Returns, but in hindsight, that would be a big lie. I still have certain questions, especially regarding the first part of the film, but I couldn’t be bothered to go look them up because that would be some more time spent on this lackluster film. There is mild profanity, some gore, horrifying scenes, and references to suicide. This one is definitely skippable, but for someone who scares easily and is watching the genre for the first time, it might do the trick of inducting them into the magical world of curses and vengeful spirits. I would give Muoi: The Curse Returns 2 and a half stars for effort and visuals.