A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 14): God.com (1998)

A couple years ago I went through a prolonged, impulsive Anthony Chau-Sang Wong period bordering on delirious obsession. It is easy to do. One minute you’re watching him as a steady, virtuous police captain in Infernal Affairs, then you’re seeing him freewheel into his comic supervillain routine in Heroic Trio. Before you know it, you’re watching him as a demented serial rapist spreading ebola and cannibalism in The Ebola Syndrome or as a god come to life in the best gonzo cameo I have yet witnessed in the criminally underrated Jiang hu: The Triad Zone. It can happen to anyone. This was a deep rabbit hole, though, given the rather prolific nature of Hong Kong cinema production – soon I strayed ever further away from Johnnie To’s gangster film classics into a darker and dirtier back alley of a more insipid breed of film. Be warned, intrepid explorers. Anthony Wong is the only reason I ever found myself to God.com. The title was a bonus – delightfully enigmatic and indescribable. How disappointed I was to discover not only is there no website – or Internet – at all in God.com, but it wasn’t even scary. Heck, it’s hardly a movie.

Not that it doesn’t try. The title sequence sets the film off to a running start – of a mysterious man arrested, as he chips away with a knife in flash cuts at an Icon of Christ, who bleeds until a ribcage is exposed (!!). Then it tries to have a plot, which is its greatest failing. Officer Chan (Louis Koo, apparently slumming it before his big break) is on the case of a Doomsday cult of sorts – the typical kind, you know, with a clearly nefarious, charismatic leader who local people follow blindly while he siphons their personal savings and they get to look forward to the End of the World. He calls himself the Pope and his church is The Church of the True God. There are moments of surrealism alluding to his mystical hold over people – he may be using animal magnetism, it may be hypnotism. Whatever it is, it is not explained fully enough to be anything other than infuriating, a device used by the plot to get itself out of a jam when it confuses itself.

See, it turns out Officer Chan’s parents died along the same lines of the current victims, which are now linked to The Church of the True God. When of course, he is placed in charge of the investigation into the group suicide linked to this cult, he enlists the help of the person in charge of his parent’s case, the eccentric Officer Chiu (our Anthony Wong), an “expert” in the “occult”. With his few books and posters and lines of indecipherable dialogue, he comes off as more of a Youtube disciple of Fox Mulder than an expert in the paranormal. As a matter of fact, he mostly insults people instead of contributing to the story in any meaningful way. Chan also turns to the leader of the previous cult (the Pope was his disciple) in a kind of advice mode clearly Hannibal Lecter in overall approach. He also seems to have an obvious conflict of interest.

Instead, a roommate of one of the current victims, Blonde Ying (actress Grace Lam – whose IMDb is mostly mid-tier smut like Emmanuelle in Hong Kong and Tortured Sex Goddess of the Ming Dynasty) is persuaded by Officer Chan to help by… infiltrating the cult to uncover the Pope’s dark secrets, and becoming his confidant. It is a rather tasteless move, because whatever respect you are trying to have with either character is thrown out the window. Chan appears heartless, throwing her into the lion’s den, and Blonde (what a name) will of course be hypnotized/brainwashed to become one of the Pope’s sexual playthings. Chan now has to save her. It’s like Notorious without feeling.

The film really falls off the rails here. I’ll even forgo the fact that God.com seems blissfully ignorant of Christian iconography and its appropriate use – even in horror cinema. The beginning of the third act is one extended sex sequence or such poor taste it is mind-shatteringly repulsive. So goes: Chan enters The Church of the True God, Chan falls under the Pope’s weird, never-explained spell, Blonde is crucified on a cross, Chan finds himself having sex with Blonde against both their wills; then Blonde turns into his mother mid-coitus after some throat-cutting. It’s one thing to allude to Freudian impulse in movies – film is full of it, of course – another to just show it, especially with such callousness. While you’re trying to recover from the Ew, we get even more scenes of sadism and orgies. In the end, there is a montage of stock footage and the world ends. The soft-porn seance and eventual mass-suicide caused the end of the world, since the Pope was some kind of Chosen One. Yay?

Outside of one or two ideas that never quite take off, a slam-dunk title sequence of heresy (which, let’s face it, is a fluke given the use of Christian imagery in the remainder of the film), and some expressionistic lighting, little here is worth a recommendation. And if you’re here for Anthony Wong, Hong Kong’s Nic Cage, this is his equivalent to Season of the Witch – a dry and embarrassing montage of better films (here, Fallen and Silence of the Lambs and definitely Se7en, which came out the year before. How is it God.com looks 20 years older than Se7en?) strung along to satisfy a director’s worst impulses. God.com doesn’t even have the accidental charm of Drive Angry. Hell, I may just watch that now, to scrub God.com from my brain.

 

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!

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