Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Unseeable (Pen Choo Kab Pee เป็นชู้กับผี)


It's no secret that I'm a fan of writer-director Wisit Sasanatieng's movies - Tears of the Black Tiger, and Citizen Dog. What's excellent and probably the hallmarks of the director currently are the stunning visuals, wonderful colors, and storylines which are highly imaginative. With Tears, it was an amalgam of cultures for a distinctive and eclectic mix of what's Thai, and the Wild Wild West. In Citizen Dog, the fusion of fantastical elements, song, and comedy endears it and at the same time, warms your heart.

But when this project was announced, I admit I was a bit apprehensive. I have not fancied many Asian horror movies of late, because of the usual formulaic stories and the employment of cheap shock tactics which bore. At times, scenes become unintentionally comedic, coupled with bad makeup and cheesy special effects, which mar whatever potential the movies could have achieved. The horror genre is no doubt a money spinner, and many times, quality is compromised when everyone jumps on the same bandwagon, knowing audiences will still lap them up despite the inferior product.

The Unseeable, however, managed to evade the negative connotations as put forth. I guess my trust in Sasanatieng's vision remained unwavering. The story, when finally pieced together, remained coherent, even though at some points, it felt that the pacing could be picked up a little. Never rushed, it took a very measured method to introduce characters, their backgrounds, and the explanation of, well, what goes bump in the night.

The story tells of a pregnant village girl, Nualjan, who left her hometown in search of her lost husband. En route to Bangkok, she gets put up at a boarding house, with few inhabitants, and owned by a mysterious rich widow Ranjuan who lives in a separate house in the same compound. Making few friends, and slowly becoming the disdain of the housekeeper, Nualjan encounters inexplainable incidents and strange folks, helped in no way by stories about the spookiness of the premises. The usual motley crew of horror movie characters also make their token appearance - an old scrawny lady, a young child, and plenty of shadowy figures.

The narrative structure did seem to stick to the usual formula though, with the final twist ending (twist endings themselves are becoming so common, it's difficult for filmmakers to imagine something more breakthrough). At times, you will also feel that despite the red herrings, your gut feel about how things will turn out, will probably correct. While the revelation explained and tied up loose ends, it did however demonstrate that it doesn't seem to want to end.

Gone are the usual bright pastel color palette that we associate Sasanatieng's movies with, and in place for The Unseeable, are strained colors with a general greenish tinge, in line with the mood and atmosphere created for horror. I felt the filmmakers achieved their objective of creating a horror movie which doesn't capitalize on CGI and special effects, that if not done right, relegates it automatically together with those of dubious quality. Relying on tight angles and excellent sound editing, I admit that yes, watching The Unseeable did give me the chills, especially during its revelatory scenes.

I believed the movie's title in Thai was a little spoiler in itself, so please don't try to translate it until after you've seen the movie. My faith in Wisit Sasanatieng continues, and I for one am eagerly anticipating his take on the martial arts genre with Armful, currently in production.

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