Thursday, 22 April 2010

Phobia

2009

Thai-horror anthology featuring the work of four different directors and comprising of four self-contained but tenuously connected tales of terror. In the grand tradition of Tales From The Crypt, Twilight Zone: The Movie and Creepshow, Phobia is an eclectic and at times compelling fright flick for those who like short, sharp and shocking horror compendia.

Director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon’s dialogue-free instalment Happiness features a young woman, housebound due to injuries received in a taxi accident, whose only connection to the outside world is via her mobile phone. One evening she begins receiving friendly text messages from a mysterious boy. Things take a turn for the sinister however when it becomes apparent that the texts are being sent from beyond the grave… Thongkongtoon is perhaps better known for his gentle comedies, but with Happiness he really proves himself to be capable of spinning a good old fashioned slow-burning horror yarn, with an emphasis on chills rather than out and out shocks. Combining elements of Rear Window, One Missed Call and The Monkey’s Paw, Happiness paints a dislocated picture of modern living - when even residing in a bustling city is no guarantee you’ll never be lonely. People communicate through machines and everything is impersonal – we all exist in our own little spaces with the internet as our window on the world. All this technology at our finger tips also allows others into our lives. Thongkongtoon milks this creepy premise for all its worth and combines it with old Thai folklore about the dead to create a claustrophobic, unnerving and surprisingly poignant tale of lonely souls desperate to connect with someone.

Tit For Tat features a group of dope-smoking school bullies who face bloody, Final Destination style retribution when their latest victim seeks revenge through black magic and a terrifying curse from which there is no escape. Paween Purikitpanya’s hyper-kinetic direction and epilepsy-inducing editing techniques combine with elaborate death scenes and generous helpings of gore to form the anthology’s low point – well, every anthology has to have a low point. The stylistic overkill, frantic pacing and over-dependency on poor CGI annihilate tension and prove distancing in this otherwise entertaining detour through high school retribution. A few striking visuals, such as the trail of blood through the crowded school corridors and the shocking though predictable final image, prove effective; otherwise this is the least engaging segment of the film.

In the Middle focuses on the dour plight of four youths on an eventful camping trip. When one goes missing after their dinghy capsizes, proceedings become worse when he eventually shows up again at their camp. This self-referential horror-comedy makes up for its lack of scares with an irascible wit that unfortunately also dilutes any tension that could have been generated from such a spooky situation. It seems director Banjong Pisanthanakun was heavily influenced by Kevin Williamson, and the barrage of nods, winks and smugly self-referential dialogue begins to wear thin after a while. This sort of thing was ‘hip’ and fresh in the Nineties, and it seems only Pisanthanakun still thinks it’s relevant. The Sixth Sense, The Others and Wongpoon’s Shutter are all mentioned and at one stage a character even poses the question ‘Why are ghosts always females with white faces and long, straight dark hair?’ Hilarious. Thai folklore and superstitions about sleeping in the middle of the bed between two people are utilised to conjure some suspense, but events are so clearly signposted and reliant on cliché that it soon abates.

With Parkpoom Wongpoom’s The Last Flight, the best has most definitely been saved for last. Upping the shock factor to new heights, this dark tale of guilt, madness, treachery and revenge follows Pim, the sole stewardess on a flight taking home the body of a deceased princess. Pim is seemingly haunted, mid-air, by the princess whose marriage she wrecked and who she accidentally killed. Taut, claustrophobic and full of unexpected scares, The Last Flight is a textbook example of effective horror. Recalling the likes of Bava’s The Drop of Water and Wise’s The Body Snatcher, this segment delves headlong into a murky tale of the vengeful dead returning to torment the one who wronged them. Eliciting shuddering chills and rippling tension as well as outright shocks, Wongpoom has created a nasty little tale of terror to rival his own Shutter and Alone.

Phobia, like most anthologies is at times utterly compelling, and at other times a rather uneven affair. Combining different tones and styles as distinct and individualistic as the one’s exhibited by these directors is not as jarring as it could have been, though it still results in the abrupt shifts in mood and atmosphere you'd expect. Having said that however, the film is never anything less than entertaining and contains more than its fair share of spine-tingling moments.

3 comments:

Sarah from Scare Sarah said...

I do love asian horror and I was really impressed by this one. Great write up.

James said...

My favourite segment, without a doubt, was The Last Flight... So, so creepy. A great premise expertly realised.

Atroxion said...

Looks very interesting... gonna check it out soon enough.