Ming Lee (Diana Rumjahn) has recently received a white-enveloped letter, marked “4 Ming Lee.” In Chinese custom, receiving the number 4 in such a manner can mean “death,” and Ming Lee, frightened for her life, calls her Auntie for assistance, fearing that she’s being threatened by either a person, or potentially the ghost of her deceased mother. What follows are the steps Ming Lee takes to avoid her supernatural-driven torment, including building a small altar, turning 4s into 8s and setting off fireworks.
Determined Spirits is an intriguing film, if extremely rough around the edges. The haunting aspect and the cultural-specific steps taken to eliminate the threat grow in intensity as the short rolls along, and I found it appropriately spooky. Still, the deliberate pace is not going to be for everyone.
Additionally, as previously mentioned, the film has a rough look to it, almost as if it’s been shot on VHS. Which is not a problem in itself, and works within the confines of the world Rumjahn creates, but it underscores the weakness of the few CGI attempts in the film.
Simply, they stand out like a sore thumb, and the result is not positive. As they are most utilized in a fairly climactic moment, they do more damage than good. In that instance, falling back on tried-and-true practical effects might have been the way to go.
Overall, Determined Spirits is an interesting ghost story that stumbles over its own ambition. When able to just be a mood piece with some creepiness thrown in, the film works in its lo-fi way. The pace was slower than I would’ve liked, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for the tale.
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