NEW YORK—Based on a true story, “Haunted – Real Evil Does Exist” offers a glimpse into the life of a prisoner of conscience inside China’s secretive detention system. It also shines a spotlight on the grisly origin of some items commonly seen on shelves for holidays, such as Halloween.
The film is inspired by the true story of the woman in Oregon who found a S.O.S. letter hidden inside a Halloween “graveyard” set she bought at discount store Kmart. The letter was from a Falun Gong prisoner of conscience being held in a Chinese forced labor camp. Falun Gong is an ancient Chinese meditation practice that the Chinese communist regime has targeted for eradication.
The woman gave the letter to a human rights organization to publicize, quickly making international headlines. Books (one published, another on the way) and a documentary film have been produced—yet this is only one of many untold stories of torture and imprisonment still happening today.
Masha Lee Savitz, writer of “Haunted,” said she read an article about a note found in a Halloween decoration years ago. Stuck in her mind, she thought it was so ironic to be found in a Halloween item, “when the real horror, and real scary thing, was happening in China, and it was real.”
Savitz wanted to illustrate and bring the story to life in a way that would be interesting to explain the persecution of Falun Gong, and its connection to the Western world.
Director Felipe Santiago also mentioned the importance of helping people make that connection.
“The main message is to raise awareness,” said Santiago. “That while we consume a lot of products made in China here in the West without asking any questions, there are people who are being enslaved in China to produce them.”
Another message Santiago wanted to convey is how communism in China still uses methods of persecution and torture to suppress other ideologies.
“They still have this very capitalist way of making money with this oppression,” he said. “So it’s like a contradiction, a big contradiction we have nowadays between let’s say the two worlds. … People in China are being enslaved—we have this persecution; here we advocate freedom, but we are buying those products and we are supporting this persecution because we don’t care where it comes from.”
Santiago said the salesman, and other characters in the store, represent a part that he sees in himself and others. Expressing an internal conflict portrayed as a shop owner that “knows what’s wrong and looks the other way, because we have to make money.”
“Sometimes we know we’re making the wrong choice,” said Santiago. “But since we want to have a better life, we do what’s wrong or we pretend to have nothing to do with it. So I mean maybe he knew that the products were made in China, because he’s Chinese … So he knew how the system works and people are enslaved, but still he wants to have this store and sell products, made in labor camps because he can make money.”
The mother represents the mature part that knows the world, and how life works. However, she is too busy to really look into the problems, and how these problems manifest in everyday life.
“Sometimes you just look the other way because we’re too busy,” said Santiago.
According to Santiago, the little girl represents innocence and purity of the human spirit.
“Another message is how this ideology affects children,” said Santiago. “You know children are very subjective, and sensitive to the messages that we give them and, once they form a notion in their minds, they become adults and follow that kind of thinking.”
Santiago said the film also represents this side of human nature—how children start out very pure, but gradually, they are polluted with notions and counter-culture, causing them to grow into negative adults.
“While people are buying these fake monsters, we wanted to show the real monsters in China,” said Santiago.