Dire consequences arise when a clique of misfits strikes back in this dystopian teen drama. Set in an alternate world on the campus of the eponymous Faeryville College, the film follows a group that call themselves the “Nobodies”. Comprising Poe (Sim), Taurus (Assalam) and CK (Leung), the Nobodies embrace their status as outcasts, rebelling against the established school system and thus becoming the target of bullying. Laer (Yong), a transfer student with a tortured past, is a loner who is at first dismissive of the Nobodies but later joins them, taking their anarchy to a new, more serious level. Student journalist Chloe (Griffin) sees the potential for a riveting story in the Nobodies and begins to form a bond with Belle (Graham), a rebellious anarchist who endeavours to leave her former life behind. The rite of passage that is self-discovery in college has never been more dangerous.
Faeryville is the feature film debut of writer-director Tzang Merwyn Tong and is something of an expansion of his 2003 short film e’Tzaintes, also set in Faeryville College. The events depicted in e’Tzaintes are referenced in the prologue of Faeryville. Faeryville is ambitious and provocative, a brave and daring Singaporean film worth getting behind. However, it is also very rough around the edges and is sometimes burdened by the ideology it explores instead of being carried by the story. Tong weathered the arduous process of getting an independent film made in Singapore, labouring on the project for eight years. Every effort is made by Tong and cinematographer David Foo to infuse Faeryville with a unique style, but it does often feel like a student film, the fact that it takes place almost entirely on a college campus contributing to that impression.
Tong has devised some striking imagery, chief of which is the Mother Saint statue, gun in one hand and open book in the other, which stands on the grounds of the fictional school. There are times when the attitude the film takes and its depiction of rebels both with and without causes can become unintentionally funny. The film suffers structurally as well, relying too heavily on voiceovers, speeches and news broadcast segments to provide unwieldy exposition. It also feels longer than its 95 minutes. The film’s championing of maligned underdogs while also questioning the concept of fighting for what one believes in is thought-provoking and brings themes that are rarely glimpsed in Singapore cinema to the fore. Tong states that he aims to explore what it’s like to be a teenager in a post-9/11 world, but perhaps it’s more apt to say that this looks at what it’s like to be a teenager in a post-Columbine world. It’s a little like The Perks Of Being A Wallflower crossed with A Clockwork Orange. There is a mythos that’s begging to be fleshed out here, but Faeryville doesn’t quite succeed at sucking the viewer into its heightened alternate universe.
As is often the case with independent films, the acting is a mixed bag. Sim, who worked with Tong in the director’s sci-fi short film V1K1, has a likeable mercurial energy to him and is easy to root for. Yong, who was picked out of 120 actors who auditioned, brings a brooding intensity to the role of Laer. Both Griffin and Graham are first-time actors and their delivery is often stilted and unnatural. When Griffin has to say, “Oh my god, it’s unbelievable”, the dullness in her voice is enough to pull one out of the film completely. The members of the Cavalry fraternity who constantly pick on our protagonists are the most one-dimensional school bullies this side of the Cobra Kai. Kris Moller, who plays Faeryville’s Principal Mr. Mathias, lacks the gravitas required to portray a looming authority figure.
Faeryville clinched a distribution deal with L.A.-based company Eleven Arts and the film had its premiere screening in Hollywood in January where it was positively received. Sterne & Lears Global Pte Ltd, the publisher of F*** Magazine, also threw its support behind the film. Since it is in the English language and takes place in an alternate reality, Faeryville can travel far better than any Singaporean film before it. Faeryville does have the potential to become a cult classic, a rare quality among Singaporean films, but Tong does struggle with articulating the many questions raised in the film. In its heightened stylisation, the film also has a tendency to lean towards the overwrought and unsubtle. That said, it is a crucial step forwards in the diversification of the local filmmaking scene and Tong is certainly a talent to watch.
Summary: Faeryville tackles issues rarely explored in local films and, while it is sometimes clumsy and lacking in sophistication, it is a promising feature debut from Tzang Merwyn Tong.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars