“Why couldn’t he just rape her?”, asks a passerby as she watches the police photograph the body of the latest rape and murder victim in a small Chinese town in the countryside. The officers taking pictures to seem extract pleasure from doing it, while other males seem to get satisfaction from describing the murder in graphic detail to their friends. There is a toxic mixture of sexism, sadism and voyerism that permeates the community, leaving women feeling vulnerable and exposed.
What’s in the Darkness opens with police detective Qu Zhicheng (Guo Xiao) trying to impress his teenage daughter Jing (Su Xiaotong, pictured above) in a street market. He describes the blood splats, the musculature and texture of a butchered pig to the perplexed and confused girl, and the butcher is not pleased with the man’s lecturing either. This sequence comes to both symbolise and summarise the film, which constantly contrasts female naivety and innocence against male patronising and obsession with the body. It’s just that the pig is soon replaced by a series of mutilated women.
Men are often seen swooning and slobbering at females throughout the movie. It seems that the police and the locals perpetuate the pleasure of the rapist and murders through proxies of the violence, such as pictures and gossiping. Meanwhile, young male teenagers seem to get strange satisfaction from watching girl cry in the cinema. China does feel like a safe haven for females. It’s unsurprising that Qu demands his teenage daughter to keep her legs shut – he knows what men are like.
The most interesting element of What’s in the Darkness is that the point-of-view is mostly from the girl’s perspective, rendering the gruesome developments somehow more gentle and subtle. The cheesy pop music provides a nice backdrop the coming-of-age story. The imagery is little more somber, and there are beautiful takes through heavy rain, dirty windows and even a mosquito net in bed. However, the pace of the story is sometimes a little monotonous – a common teething issue for a budding helmer. Keep an eye on Wang: the director could become a pleasant surprise and welcome addition to the Chinese thriller genre in the future.
And don’t forget to watch the film trailer right here: