Bargain

By Clifford Miu | Horror
A student signs a lease for an apartment, then discovers it was the site of a homicide.

A young Chinese foreign exchange student named Li finds herself in New York City to continue her studies. She lucks into a beautiful luxurious apartment with a stunning view of the city, allowing her to live out her urban-chic dream.

But the apartment has a dark past as the site of a past homicide, which stirs up latent superstitions in Li. And once she uncovers the truth, she finds herself grappling with a power beyond this world.

Writer-director Clifford Miu’s paranormal thriller is an exploration of how our subconscious thoughts can shape our perception of reality. A portrait in how latent anxieties can swim to the surface of our lives and transform into nightmares, this bone-chilling psychological study uses the power of cinema to evoke the interior experience of fear, putting us in the footsteps of an increasingly paranoid main character.

What’s remarkable is that Miu accomplishes this with very few effects and a polished yet restrained sense of craftsmanship. The short is minimalist in many ways. Its narrative is self-contained and relatively narrow in scope, and with its intense focus on one character, it’s also a remarkably quiet film, with a sparsely decorated main location, little dialogue and no score.

Its silence and stillness is matched by an equally pared down sense of visuals, with deliberate and stately camera movements and a cool-toned color palette. With its often longer takes, we feel time stretch in the way that Li does, and how each progressively unnerving moment seems to gain weight, looming ever increasingly larger with each day.

This deliberate approach contributes to the main character’s sense of isolation and foregrounds just how uncanny an unseen presence in her home is — but also just how fascinating and real it becomes for her as well.

By the time we reach the film’s end, Li tries to strike a “bargain” with the spirit she senses. Whether that bargain works — and whether or not the spirit is real, or just a trick of Li’s increasingly strained mind — is left up to viewer interpretation at the end. The result is a small gem of a film that is uncanny enough to create a seeping sense of dread — not just because it explores the possibility of the otherworldly, but because its hauntings nestle so intimately within our deepest and most ancient fears.




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