Deliverance (源生罪, Kelvin Shum, 2022)

A young woman haunted by the buried memories of repressed trauma discovers that sometimes it really is better not to know but also comes to a new appreciation of familial love in Kelvin Shum’s visually striking psychological chiller, Deliverance (源生罪). Meaning something more like original sin the Chinese title hints at the reconsideration of the traditional family which lies under the central mystery and prompts the heroine, long separated from her siblings, to question the nature of her familial bonds and whether she can really say that those closest to her have her best interests at heart. 

After living abroad for 15 years, Nicole (Summer Chan) has married and returned home to Hong Kong with her husband but is haunted by a shadowy figure that reminds her of her childhood trauma in being unable to remember anything about the night her mother passed away after a long illness. Back in a familiar environment and reconnecting with her siblings, old memories begin to surface particularly after a few sessions with her famous hypnotist brother, Joseph (Simon Yam). Gradually she begins to suspect that her mother may not have died of her illness as she was led to believe but may have been murdered and possibly by a member of her immediate family which was then under intense pressure from loansharks due to debts run up by her absent father who ran away and abandoned the family to their fate. 

The theme of abandonment continues to resonate, Nicole insecure in her familial relationships as her brothers sent her abroad to study shortly after their mother’s death. She can’t escape the idea that they are keeping something from her, and is quite literally haunted by her inability to remember what happened on the night her mother died. But as Joseph had said during one of his lectures, memory is a treacherous thing and if you don’t remember something perhaps that’s because it’s better not to. Then again as her brother Will adds, it’s impossible to escape your past and someday you will be expected to answer for it whether you remember it or not. 

Nicole’s insistence on knowing the truth may partly be motivated by the fact that she is shortly to become a mother herself, though Joseph tries to convince her that her eerie visions and increasing paranoia are side effects of her pregnancy. Trust is the foundation of relationships, and Nicole is beginning to feel as if she can’t trust anyone anymore, but nor can she trust her memories many of which are influenced by her brother’s hypnotism. Working as a doctor she is touched by the relationship between an elderly couple who remain devoted to each other as the husband (Kenneth Tsang) contends with terminal cancer, but is also struck by the discord between their children who argue loudly in the corridor about the responsibilities of care and the financial burden of their father’s medical treatment. 

The understanding she begins to come to is that all of these reactions can in fact come from a place of love even if it doesn’t really seem like it on the surface. Whatever happened to her mother it may be no different, and if her family are indeed keeping something from her it may be out of a desire to protect her from the truth however misguided a desire that may be. As Joseph had said in his speech, emotions can take lives but they can also save them, though it appears the pain of not knowing is eating away at Nicole’s soul and only the truth can set her free. Mr Lam, the terminal cancer patient, cheerfully explains that all of life is a journey towards death but only to emphasise that it’s how you use the time that’s important so obsessing over the past might not serve you so well in the end. In any case, the journey into her own psyche may be uncomfortable and reveal truths that are painful but allows Nicole to begin overcoming her trauma while repairing her existing familial bonds before beginning new ones. Shot with noirish visual flair featuring high contrast colour and a dreamlike eeriness in Nicole’s ever present haunting, Shum’s psychological mystery suggests orphaned files must be brought back into the fold and that there can be no healing without truth but also that the expression of love can take many forms not all of which are easily understood. 


Deliverance had its World Premiere as part of the 15th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Trailer (dialogue free)