“Alone” has been causing considerable excitement amongst horror fans as it marks the return of Thai directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, whose 2004 debut outing “Shutter” still stands as one of best modern Asian ghost films. Advance word on the film has been very good, with it generating positive buzz on the international horror festival circuit, winning four prizes at the 2007 Screamfest including Best Director and Best Picture. For the all important lead role, the directing duo managed to lure Thai-German actress and singer Marsha Wattanapanich, who returns to the screen after a lengthy fifteen year absence. Pedigree and cast aside, the film has always been likely to face a stiff challenge through the fact that the last few years have undeniably seen the Asian ghost genre become depressingly stagnant, and as such Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom have been faced with the unenviable uphill task of injecting new life into the form and winning over viewers who are by now understandably tired of twitchy vengeful female spirits.
The film is certainly not narrative driven, with a very simple set up: Wattanapanich plays Pim, a young woman who until the age of fifteen was joined at the stomach to her twin sister Ploy. The two were separated after adolescent angst took over, against Ploy’s wishes, sadly resulting in her death. Now a grown woman, Pim lives in Korea with boyfriend Wee (Vittaya Wasukraipaisan), though is forced to return home after her mother has a stroke. No prizes for guessing what happens next, as she is haunted by weird visions of Ploy, who seems to have risen from the grave to fulfil a childhood promise that the two would be together..forever.
This really doesn’t amount to much of a plot, and indeed “Alone” is basically a rollercoaster ride of weird events and appearances by the increasingly threatening ghost. Indeed, since the identity of the spirit is made clear from the start, the kind of investigative element usually present in genre films is absent save for a sucker punch final act twist, though this for once is surprising and effective. Of course, for a horror film, a complex and involved plot is by no means a prerequisite for success, a fact of which Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom seem to be all too aware, as they focus all of their efforts into filling the film with shock after shock and plenty of creepy atmospherics.
The two have come on in leaps and bounds as directors since the occasionally clumsy “Shutter”, and they show an immaculate sense of timing when it comes to keeping the viewer on edge, throwing in a near constant barrage of sudden and surreal scares. Whilst to be fair some of these are suspiciously familiar, there are numerous moments of genuine invention, and with most of the frights being expertly handled the film makes for a pretty nerve wracking experience which is likely to squeeze a few jumps out of even the most experienced horror fan. The ghost herself is certainly one of the more effective apparitions of recent years, a gruesome and enthusiastic spectre who really puts a lot of work into her terror campaign.
Even in its quieter moments the film has the power to chill, and the directors never miss a chance to sneak in unsettling details, many of which it will require a second viewing to pick up on. The set design helps generate an oppressively sinister atmosphere, with Pim’s childhood house clearly being just down the road from the mansion in “A Tale of Two Sisters” (a film which “Alone” certainly resembles, perhaps inevitably given the subject matter, though from which it thankfully does not borrow much) and with Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom wisely making sure that most of the locations are eerily deserted and come with plenty of gloomy shadows. Visually, the film subtly impressive, filled with drab, grey colours which give it a distinctly other worldly air which nicely underscores the skulking supernatural menace.
“Alone” is probably the best Asian ghost film since “A Tale of Two Sisters”, and proves that when done right the genre still has plenty to offer. Although undeniably haunted by an air of the familiar, through masterly execution Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom wring every last shriek from the set up, confirming that “Shutter” was no one-off, and that they are indeed amongst the best directors on the international horror scene – though their next work will hopefully see them taking on something a little different.
Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom (director) / Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom (screenplay)
CAST: Masha Wattanapanich … Pim / Ploy
Ratchanoo Bunchootwong … Pim and Ploy’s Mother
Namo Tongkumnerd … Vee, Age 15
Vittaya Wasukraipaisan … Vee
Masha Wattanapanitch … Pim