The Unbelievable is not the first film to be adapted from a TV series, but it is likely to go down in the record books as one of the worst. This
film, documentary, steaming pile o' ectoplasm at the very least has an amazingly accurate title in that almost nothing it has to offer is in fact believable.
Some history first: the TV series itself dates back to 1996 when horror film veteran Simon Lui was the original host. While film has typically approached this genre with a heavy dose of fiction (see Troublesome Night and similar variants), TV programs about real ghosts, hauntings, and supernatural phenomena have proven quite popular in Hong Kong. Lui eventually departed the TV show and over the years various hosts came on board. The current group includes Miss Rachel Chan (or Chen as listed elsewhere) who "stars" in this film alongside a film crew that seems to change as frequently as her outfits do.
The film starts off with Rachel and the crew travelling to Thailand and acting as ambulance chasers, attempting to be first on the scene at accidents to assist with corpse removal. Their purpose has something to do with finding spirits of the newly departed, but the segment is mostly just the group running about, filming victims on the ground and also the occasional small puddle of blood. The film shifts gears when the team gets a call to investigate a bad smell in an old house, whereupon they discover a suicide victim. From there things turn towards the supernatural, or so we are told.
Much of the film’s premise is based upon ghost/spirit calling situations that require the cute female hostess Rachel and another female crewmember to sit in some dark, candlelit location and chant Taoist spells while multiple cameras are trained on them. According to the team's resident Taoist, Master Szeeto, females are needed to attract the ghosts/spirits because they carry more negative energy than men. As it turns out, this is a conveniently appropriate explanation given the girls’ ability to scream and cry as the situations escalate. In these situations "something" invariably happens (a noise, a cat, a closing door, etc), Rachel and companion both scream, and Taoist Master Szeeto and the crew rush in to the rescue and then everyone runs off.
Multiple camera emplacements do little to reveal anything and ironically it is the lowest resolution camera that always seems to "catch" an image of something. What they never bother to explain is why these encounters always take place at night and can never be lit with anything other than candlelight. It's an adolescent formula that's only enhanced further with the addition of elements such as an Ouija board and a crew member being possessed by a supposed foreign spirit who then manages to only speak Cantonese.
Music cues and stingers come in at appropriately edited times to give cause to jump, but the film is more disturbing than scary, with ritualistic animal mutilations that offend the senses. This would not be out of the ordinary for anyone used to a Hong Kong wet market - with the exception that animal hawkers are far more humane in the process of actually killing animals than the people that the filmmakers choose to show here. Furthering the assault on the senses is the shaky handheld camera, which makes The Blair Witch Project look like a masterpiece.
But perhaps the most truly disturbing aspect of the film comes in the film’s opening, which presents what appears to be stock footage of the massive human corpse cleanup in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Combined with some scenes of nudity and sexual content involving a Thai transsexual performing a spiritual ritual of charisma, this distasteful footage ultimately accounts for the film's Category III rating.
The most amusing scene of the film comes when the crew is granted access to a secret poison making ritual, only to find themselves being shaken down and extorted by the
"shaman" and his acolytes for $200,000 Thai baht (about US$5,800). However, as with the earlier parts of the film, the believability of this segment is called into question. Perhaps the crew was indeed in danger and perhaps we as viewers have all been so saturated with Reality TV that the "genuine" now seems truly absurd. Still, such is the world we live in, and filmmakers need to understand that. They need to be a bit more forthcoming when creating films like these.
It should be said that this review is not trying to discredit any beliefs in spirituality or the supernatural and takes no position on such phenomena. What it is trying to say is that The Unbelievable, which claims to be an illumination of such issues, is simply a collection of cheaply shot sequences and stock footage enhanced with a D-movie horror musical score. Anyway, if these events are indeed so scary and revealing, why is a score even needed? For a far more entertaining and exploitative documentary, one should search out the Shocking Asia trilogy from the 1970s. (Paul Fox, 2009)