Thanks to the fine folks at the upcoming Philadelphia Film Festival/Cinefest 09 we’re going to be running a ton of early reviews from their Danger After Dark program, as well as some other of their genre films. For tickets and schedule information check out their official site.
Horror is one of few genres that works perfectly in anthology format. The reason for that may be simple- we can all imagine horrible things happening to us, so it’s easy to relate to a character in trouble with hardly any backstory. While horror comedy is definitely the quick and easy way out for most filmmakers working with a short running time, sometimes a skilled director can give you something just as powerful as a scary feature. 4BIA (it helps if you pronounce it FOURBIA) is a collection of four stories from Thailand that are very, very loosely connected with each other. They’re being billed as being made by some of Thailand’s top directors but the reality’s a little different. Youngyooth Thongkonthun (Happiness) is known for his lighthearted comedies and hasn’t really made a genre film, Paween Purikitpanya (Tit for Tat) has only got one film under his belt, and Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoon (In the Middle and Last Fright, respectively) co-directed the decent hits Shutter and Alone. So “Top Directors” might be as loose a monicker as “Masters of Horror”, but these are big guys over there. This film made more money than any other in Thailand last year, and there’s a reason why- it’s good at giving you a few scares and not requiring a whole lot from the audience. As with most anthologies some segments are greater than others, but on a whole this is a decent little collection.
Happiness is the first short and happens to be the best, with a succinct and scary little story. It’s simple enough- a girl stuck alone in her apartment does her best James Stewart impression, moping around with a cast on her leg from a car accident. She’s lonely and missing companionship since she just recently broke up with her boyfriend. She starts getting text messages from an unknown man, someone who seems equally lonely and seems to be a nice enough guy. Things soon spiral downward from there. It’s a beautifully shot film, and genuinely creepy.
Next up is Tit for Tat, a variation on one of those “cool kids pull a prank on a dork that turns unexpectedly deadly” films (Sometimes They Come Back, Tamara, etc.) The style of the film is completely overdone. It’s one of those films where the camera never stays still, placing the subjects just out of frame and jerking around all the time, frequently getting out of focus. You know, one of those films that thinks it’s a lot cooler than it is, when all you really want is to see a shot linger for more than two seconds. Of course, when it does you’ll start getting dizzy from the camerawork and annoyed by the silly metal riffs. I’m exaggerating a bit but it does get irritating. While there’s some good gore and kills here and there (surrounded by some iffy CGI) it’s mostly forgettable.
In the Middle is easily the worst of the bunch, a self-referential ghost story (that spoils a ton of movies, including director Pisanthanakum’s own Shutter!) about four guys who go camping. While talking about Thai horror films they discuss what would happen if one of them died, and the general consensus is that if one died they’d come back and haunt the one in the middle. Naturally one of them goes missing and the friends spend a night terrified in the woods.
The ending is fairly predictable, and while it’s happening one of the characters mentions “this twist is just like (movie title)!”. Ugh. Guess it’s supposed to be humerous, but it’s more rote than anything.
That brings us to the final short, Last Fright. It’s about a flight attendant named Pim who’s looking after a Princess of a (fake) country called Khurkistan. What the Princess apparently doesn’t know is that Pim had been messing around with the Prince. After getting bossed around by the Princess and mentally and physically abused, Pim rashly decides to stick some shrimp in the Princess’ meal, which she’s allergic to. She dies after reaching her destination.
Her country demands the body back as soon as possible and poor Pim is stuck in charge of taking care of it on a plane trip with no other passengers… and during the middle of a lightning storm. They won’t allow the body to be placed in the cargo hold, instead placing it in a seat covered simply with a white sheet, and you can imagine where the story goes from here. It’s got a bunch of great scares to it and it does well at making you wonder whether Pim’s just going nuts.
4BIA is a very mainstream collection but it does exactly what it’s supposed to- give you a few good scares and entertain you. We don’t get nearly enough anthology films these days (if only WB didn’t drop the ball on Trick R’ Treat…) so it’s always good to see one that works.
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey