Bored by vampires and zombies? HBO Asia's new horror series, Folklore, could introduce you to a whole new set of nightmarish beings in the lead-up to Halloween.
Drawing on local myths from Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, this six-episode anthology series will keep you riveted to your seat and constantly looking over your shoulder.
The series was created by Singapore's acclaimed director Eric Khoo. He's rounded up five other directors, including Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang, to explore local legends in their own inimitable style.
It's set to hit TV screens in Asia on Oct. 7, with the first episode free for everyone to watch. Like other HBO Asia Originals, such as Halfworlds, it should make its way Stateside soon.
Each hour-long film is memorable, with Japanese filmmaker Takumi Saitoh's Tatami standing out for its use of suspense. The main character, Makoto Kishi, is mute, and much of the story plays out in tense silence until the main reveal. The flick references the folktale that household tatami absorb emotions, both positive and negative.
Khoo's own film, Nobody, takes on the tale of a Pontianak, a vengeful female ghost that kills men by ripping their inner organs out. Khoo plays close to classic horror tropes, with slow buildups for effective scares and a cliffhanger ending that leaves you wanting more. It's simple but it works great.
Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Pob is another highlight. It's shot mostly in black and white and the director avoided using CGI for the ghost's appearance, using an old-school mirror technique for some of the shots. The film features a Thai cannibal ghost called Phi-Pob who shares his tale with a blogger.
It's honestly not as scary as the other offerings in the series, such as Khoo's Nobody. Pob has a lighter tone and a neat little twist. But it's my favorite of the six.
As for the other three series, they feature adequate scares while offering clever twists to keep you entertained. Toyol is a classic Malaysian take on why hiring a bomoh (a Malaysian shaman) for nefarious purposes isn't a good idea. There are plenty of homages to Malaysian culture and folklore, but it's not as scary as it could be.
Indonesia's A Mother's Love takes on a scary child-snatching ghost called Wewe Gombel. It threatens to be cliched at first but redeems itself at the end with a satisfying finish. Korea's Mongdal is the tale of a an obsessive teenage boy and his mum. It's shot beautifully, but feels like the weakest of the series with characters I just couldn't empathize with. The other five stories drew me into their world, but Mongdal's characters are alienating at best.
HBO Asia's Folklore will premier in the US on Feb 1 on HBO Now, HBO Go and HBO On Demand.