During a routine road march at an island military training camp, an army recruit is found dead at exactly 23:59. This mysterious and gruesome incident unearths a terrifying dark secret of the haunted island, forcing the recruits to confront their deepest fears in order to find the truth about their friend's death.
By now, there have been so many horror movies made that it takes a lot of creativity for one to stand out from the others. For the most part, each new horror movie that's released contains at least one element of another. There's an aire of familiarity to many of them. So, when a movie like '23:59' comes along that feels like a mad lib of horror cliches, it certainly doesn't stand a chance of being one of the greats.
Having said that, '23:59' isn't bad. It just isn't good either. It's right in the middle. Still, considering that it's only 78 minutes long (including credits), it doesn't feel like too much of a waste of time.
Aside from that wretched 'Hills Have Eyes 2' remake, I cannot think of another horror movie revolving around a group of soldiers. The narrative of '23:59' jumps around quite a bit, but the central story focuses on a platoon of army recruits going through training on a remote island. The majority of the time is spend watching them in their barracks late at night or walking through the jungle on dark and rainy night training hikes. The movie kicks off with the recruits telling urban legend scary stories late one night. The tale they tell is of a ghost woman who kills people in the last minute of the day - 23:59 military time, to be exact. The stories they tell change around so much that it's hard to keep track of exactly what's going on within their own horror story, but a deadly midnight woman is the main gist of it.
Of this group, we initially follow two troops – Tan and Jeremy. Tan is the picked-on outcast of the group and Jeremy is his friend that defends him from the bullies. After hearing these tales, Tan begins seeing a ghostly woman and her child. Nobody believes him – not even Jeremy – but they'll all believe Tan before long. As the troops head out on one of their night hikes, strange things start happening, things that will uncover secrets about themselves and the mysterious island that doubles as their new home. Tan goes missing and one of the troops sees his spirit/ghost just moments before Tan's dead body is found. Without question, all the troops start witnessing paranormal events that prove that something's awry.
The main problem with '23:59' is that it doesn't know what type of horror movie it wants to be, so it mimics just about every horror movie you can think of. We've got the urban legends, the Ouija board, ghosts, creepy kids, the cocky disbeliever character(s), seances, possessions, apparitions, paranormal activities, exorcisms and people who see dead people. It's a mishmash of every horror movie you've ever seen. It has an identity crisis and lacks any sense of originality.
'23:59' at least has a few things going for it: production value (probably because not much is required of its story and settings), acting, visual style and overall quality. Like I said, it's not bad, but it's not too good either.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia has placed '23:59' on a BD-25 disc that's housed in a standard blue Elite keepcase. Considering how short the movie is and how little there is in the way of special features (standard-def special features at that), the size of the disc is barely a problem when it comes to the video quality. Upon popping in the disc, three unskippable videos play before the main menu – Magnolia and Magnet vanity reels and a commentary disclaimer – followed by more than eight minutes of skippable trailers (see the special features section below for a list of the trailers).
'23:59' arrives on Blu-ray with a decent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that's actually better than I expected from the low budget (rumored to be around $60,000) Singapore production on a BD-25 disc. The movie appears with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The only real size-related issues that arise from this disc come in the form of banding, of which there are several nasty instances, and occasional crushing, which result from a good chunk of the movie being set in either dark or nighttime settings. Also, a light amount of noise can be seen during a solitary shot around the 64 minute mark. There's no denying these flaws, but they appear quite a bit less than expected due to movie's short runtime and single lengthy SD special feature.
Helping these flaws from becoming memorable distractions are a bunch of great video characteristics. Shot digitally, there's a perfect sharpness and clarity to be found in every shot (given that it's not eroded by bands or crushing) which opens up the movie for great, easily visible textures and fine details. Faces always dazzle with defined pores, pocks and scars. The rigid and tight textures of military garb can always be made out. All-in-all, the video quality of '23:59' is much better than it ought to be.
'23:59' carries a pair of lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks to choose from – one dubbed in English and the other in its native Mandarin. Not being a fan of dubbed foreign film tracks, I reviewed the Mandarin track.
I laughed a little when the movie began because after starting it, a DTS vanity reel immediately played. The reel carries a 7.1 track that beams from all channels, dynamically bouncing around. Unfortunately, the 5.1 track of the movie itself barely uses the channels that it's supposedly mixed to.
The audio for '23:59' is insanely front heavy. All vocals blare from the front channels and 99 percent of all effects follow along. Very few effects are mixed into the surround channels. Only on a handful of occasions do creepy effects emit from the sides, but these instances are far too few. One scene is set in the jungle during a downpour and, for some reason, lightning cracks from the surround channels, but the rainfall – which is visually a far more obvious sound element than the lightning – is barely audible.
The only part of the mix to completely make use of the space is the music. Acting opposite the vocals, the score is never once bound to the front. Instead, it's always very well spread throughout the space.
I love a good, original, creative low-budget indie horror movie, but of those things, the only characteristic that '23:59' possesses is its low budget. The quality of the movie itself isn't at all bad, but the story is extremely generic, recycling loads of well-known horror movie plot points. Even with better than expected video quality, the story and sub-par audio quality bog the movie down. A decent making-of special feature is included, but if the movie isn't worth getting excited about, then the making-of is pretty useless. If there's any curiosity about '23:59,' I recommend checking it out before purchasing - no matter how cheap this disc may be. Otherwise, you can probably just skip this.