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Thai horror “Ghost of Mae Nak” was originally released back in 2005 when the modern Asian ghost genre was very much still in full swing, and with the country just having scored one of the best efforts of the form to date with the excellent “Shutter”. The film was, and indeed still is of interest for a couple of reasons which help it to stand out from the crowd, namely that it was actually directed by a Brit, Mark Duffield, and in that it offers a modern update on an old Thai legend. Of course, said legend had already been filmed no less than twenty times, most notably in 1999 by director Nonzee Nimibutr (who contributed segment “The Wheel” to the acclaimed 2003 horror anthology “Three”), which of course begs the question as to what could possibly be left to say on the subject.
The plot basically drags the old legend in to modern times by following Mak (Siwat Chotchaicharin) and Nak (former model and popstar turned actress Pataratida Pacharawirapong), a newlywed couple who as is so often the case discover that their bargain price dream home in Bangkok comes with a catch. Sure enough, poor Mak is soon having nightmares about Mae Nak (played by Porntip Papanai, also in Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s excellent “Monrak Transistor” and “Ploy”), a tragic ghost who unfortunately has a large piece of her forehead missing. After he falls under her curse and slumps into a deathly trance, Nak seizes the initiative and attempts to solve the mystery of Mae Nak’s fate, a task made considerably less easy by the fact that everyone around her starts to die in a bizarre and bloody manner.
“Ghost of Mae Nak” works well thanks to a combination of old-fashioned atmospherics and distinctly modern gore. Whilst still retaining the basic formula of the modern Asian ghost genre, with the film revolving around an investigation into the dark secrets of the past by a plucky female protagonist, director Duffield also brings in an international flavour to the proceedings. This proves to be an interesting choice, and the film benefits from the fact that it references not only “Ringu” and other similarly themed efforts, but also the likes of “Final Destination” and “The Omen”, mainly thanks to its plethora of imaginative death scenes.
The film is actually quite cruel and unpredictable in this respect, cutting a swathe through the supporting cast in impressive and entertaining fashion. Although the thin premise is stretched a little too far, especially since the vast majority of viewers will have a pretty good idea of the ending after the first five minutes, Duffield shows the good sense to throw in a pleasing number of scares. Although most of these are quite predictable and cheap, they are generally energetic enough to keep things moving at a decent pace, and the film has considerably more supernatural action than most of its peers. Similarly, while it doesn’t really add anything to the ‘Mae Nak’ legend, Duffield uses it reasonably well, mainly to give what might otherwise have been a rather empty scare show a little depth.
Visually, the film is very strong, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given that Duffield previously worked as a cinematographer on a number of Thai productions. Bangkok is brought to creepy life in a stylish manner, and he scores extra points for not taking the easy route like so many others by simply exploiting the city’s seamier side, instead relying upon more traditional horror motifs, managing to find an eerie sense of isolation away from the crowds and the neon lights. This approach not only makes the film far more genuine and indeed interesting from a cultural point of view, showing a more realistic picture of the city, but arguably also makes it more unsettling, pushing its horrors firmly into believable everyday life.
At the end of the day, “Ghost of Mae Nak” is what it is – another in the never ending line of modern Asian ghost films. However, although essentially it does not offer anything new, it stands as a well made, distinctly above average example of the genre, which will certainly please fans through its dedication to the sinister, packing in a highly respectable quotient of effective chills and thrills.
Mark Duffield (director) / Mark Duffield (screenplay)
CAST: Pataratida Pacharawirapong … Nak
Siwat Chotchaicharin … Mak
Porntip Papanai … Mae Nak
Jaran Ngamdee … Por Mak
Meesak Nakarat … Angel