STREAMING REVIEWS: Directing debuts

Published November 11, 2021, 9:08 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


British actress Rebecca Hall debuts as a director with the sensitive period drama Passing, while the horror anthology Folklore, can boast of pop star Seiko Matsuda’s first foray into directing.


Passing (Netflix USA) – This is one delicate, yet brutal, film about racial identity. While it’s set in New York City of the 1920s, it’s potent social commentary can be saying just as much about today, as it is about that era. And it’s wonderful to note that British actress Rebecca Hall wrote the adaptation from the Nella Larsen novel, produced the film, and directs as well. With Tessa Thompson as Irene, and Ruth Negga as Clare in the two main roles, it’s a stirring story about trying to ‘pass’ as white, when you’re black. Going back to Rebecca Hall, she’s been quoted as saying the film is very personal to her. She’s the daughter of noted stage director Peter Hall, and her mother is opera singer Maria Ewing – whose father is of American Indian and African-American lineage.

When Irene bumps into childhood friend Clare, it’s immediately noticed that Clare is passing as white; and as we discover, is even married to a racist husband (portrayed by Alexander Skarsgärd). What follows is an exploration into the psyches of people who attempt to ‘pass’; and it’s soon not lost on us that even those who don’t look like they’re trying to pass are also hiding their own secrets and misgivings. The film is shot in black and white; but it’s a black and white that’s vibrant and comes alive at every opportunity. There’s much to love about the texture, intelligence, and subtlety of this film as it explores issues that still carry so much weight today. Bravo to Rebecca Hall for this complex first film, and it’ll be interesting to watch what she comes up with next.


Folklore (HBO Go) – This anthology series drops on HBO Go on Nov. 14, and it’s Season 2 of this highly successful series which explores the superstitions and beliefs of different Asian countries and weaving potent horror stories around said folklore. And of special interest to us is that one of the episodes comes from the Philippines, directed by Erik Matti. The other countries represented this second season are Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore. The series’ creative director Eric Khoo hails from Singapore, and he handpicks the stories as they’re pitched to him, and of special interest this season is how iconic pop star Seiko Matsuda, makes her directorial debut with the episode that comes from Japan.

So if you’re looking for a series that knows how to create tension, and be scary without overplaying its hand and going too gory, or relying purely on jump scares, this is the anthology meant for you. I got the opportunity to preview two of the episodes (which will drop every Sunday), and I appreciated the Asian perspective and how they set about anchoring the stories in family, traditions, and the everyday life and rituals of the country where the episode originates from. The Seiko Matsuda episode will drop on Nov. 21, and it’s a ghost story with roots in the music scene – and Matsuda says it’s based on a true story. Asian horror has really been on the upswing for more than a decade now, with Hollywood the one doing adaptations. With Folklore, it’s easy to relate to the stories; and note that the original is still the best. A strong series.