Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The House

2012
Dir. Monthon Arayangkoon

While Thai horror cinema doesn’t quite wield the legacy or prolific output as its other Asian counterparts, such as Korean or Japanese horror (or J-Horror as it has been dubbed), a recent emergence of fright flicks from the burgeoning film industry has included a number of memorable titles such as Shutter, 4bia, Meat Grinder, Sick Nurses and The Victim – not forgetting of course the moody The Eye films. The House is the latest edition to this strikingly eclectic fold and it boasts the same unique tone and idiosyncrasies as its creepy peers. The serpentine story coils around investigative journalist Shalinee (Inthira Chaloenpura) who is commissioned to make a documentary about several doctors who brutally murdered their wives. As her snooping continues, she uncovers some odd connections and similarities between the killings, including the sinister fact that throughout the years, all the murderous doctors had at one time or another lived in the same house near the hospital. Despite warnings from spooked (and spooky) neighbours, Shalinee enters the house in search of further clues. What she finds there plunges her and her husband into a twisted nightmare full of bitterly vengeful ghosts and giant shadow demons. 

Somewhat typical of Asian horror, and especially echoing the likes of Ju-on (a cursed house) and Shutter (ghostly beings captured on camera), The House is full of long, slow takes and pans, with various nightmarish figures briefly glimpsed in the background, including the by now obligatory ghost-girl with long black hair covering her face. However, as the story unravels, director Arayangkoon begins to find his feet and ensures that the film moves into unexpected directions and consistently throws up twists and surprises to keep the viewer intrigued. His camera is rarely still as it floats wraith-like throughout the ominous titular dwelling place, down long hallways and around the heads of characters. For the most part things are subtle, though there are a number of perfectly timed jolts that rip through the eerie stillness, usually involving the protagonist slowly turning around to discover a disfigured ghost-girl all up in her grill. Amalgamating various traits from sub-genres such as haunted house films, possession films, ghost stories and, curiously enough when Shalinee films her tentative exploration of the house, found-footage/camcorder horror, The House at times feels strangely familiar. That is of course until things veer down an unexpected route and toy with our expectations.



Certain scenes also appear to echo the likes of Silent Hill, when the protagonist suddenly finds herself in what appears to be a whole other space in time, witnessing, or remembering, bloody encounters. There may be a few too many ‘familiar’ aspects drawn from Asian horror cinema for some, but overall The House is a genuinely gripping and often surprising yarn with several effective twists in its tail. It also boasts a peculiar nightmare logic throughout, particularly in the moments when Shalinee attempts to escape from the house and burn it down, with everything working against her, including the petrol she doses everything with mysteriously drying up, and a terrifying encounter on a deserted bridge at night. As Shalinee, Inthira Chaloenpura aptly carries the film and is rather convincing as a determined and focused career woman who finds herself descending into madness and waking nightmares.

At the heart of the story is a malign force that weasels its way into marriages and relationships, altering perspectives and turning partners and lovers against each other, with one emerging as a maniacal killer. Interestingly, the wooden pillar that stands in the centre of the house, ensuring it doesn’t collapse around its inhabitants, is the source of the evil presence. It’s tempting to read this as a subversion or corruption of the home, or more specifically, the family unit in Thai culture, as it houses the evil force intent on destroying the sanctuary and solidarity of family and tearing down loving relationships.

The House is a twisted and twisting tale with some striking imagery, an irresistible central mystery and more than a few ominously atmospheric moments and jumps that should please those who like their Asian horror with a little complexity and eventually doused in the red stuff.

The House (18) is available on DVD from 4th June courtesy of MVM.

4 comments:

Jon T said...

This sounds like one to catch, James. I love the other films you reference, such as Shutter. The Asian horror films are the only ones that, for me, manage to make ghosts truly frightening - perhaps because they are usually malign and seeking revenge. Must put this one on the list - haunted houses, possessions - what's not to like? Another great write up, James - thanks for the heads up on this one.

Christine Hadden said...

"...full of long, slow takes and pans, with various nightmarish figures briefly glimpsed in the background"... Yes please.
This sounds like something I will have to see.

I'm quite a fan of Asian horror - no matter how many times I see a ghost-girl with long dark hair making her way through hallways and such, it's still unsettling as hell.

And shades of Silent Hill, too? I love alternate dimension/Twilight Zone aspects in film, so this will have to go on my 'to see' list, as soon as it is available in the states.

James Gracey said...

This has plenty of interesting stuff going on, though it maybe loses its way a little somewhere. The initially subtle approach eventually burns off to make way for full on gore and CGI demons. Still, an enjoyable enough flick with some really creepy moments. Hope you guys like it if you get a chance to check it out. :)

psynno said...

I'll look out for this one. Some of the most creative and original horror of recent years comes out of these countries; they seem less preoccupied with style and know how to tell a good yarn, and they're not afraid to disturb either. Cheers!