Thai horror continues to go from strength to strength with “Phobia 2” (also more awkwardly referred to as “4bia 2”), sequel to the popular 2008 anthology piece. This time around the film offers not four, but five short tales of terror, with producer Yongyoot Thongkongtoon (“Iron Ladies”) pulling together an impressive line up of top directors in the returning Paween Purijitpunya (“Body”), and Parkpoom Wongpoom and Banjong Pisonthanakun (co-helmers of the blockbusters “Shutter” and “Alone”), along with newcomers Songyos Sugmakanan (“Dorm”) and Wisoot Poolworraluck (a veteran Thai producer, who worked on “Nang-Nak”). Although horror anthologies can be notoriously hit and miss affairs, the film was a massive commercial success, breaking box office records during its domestic release and becoming the country’s top grossing genre production of all time.
First up is “Novice”, from Paween Purijitpanya, which follows a young delinquent teen called Pey (Jirayu Raongmanee), whose mother dumps him at an isolated rural Buddhist monastery to hide him from the law. Unfortunately, the belligerent youth doesn’t take well to his shaved head and training, and soon runs into trouble after disturbing the Hungry Ghost Festival, causing the awakening of a terrifying spirit. Well paced and featuring a better deployment of plot revelations than most full features, the short benefits from a truly eerie atmosphere, and a creepy sense of ambiguity that puts the viewers firmly in the shoes of its troubled protagonist. Unencumbered for the most part by dialogue, and with Purijitpanya making great use of the shadowy forest setting, it makes for unsettling viewing and gets the collection off to a very promising start.
Next up is Wisoot Poolworraluck’s “Ward”, revolving around Arthit (Worrawech Danuwong), a young man who ends up in the titular hospital room after injuring his leg. Whilst his nurse is attractive, if incompetent, he is understandably uneasy at having a dying cult leader lying in the next bed, whose followers keep turning up to perform his final rites. Although entertaining in its own modest way, and playfully ghoulish, this segment is arguably the weakest of the bunch, as despite its competent handling, the would-be twist ending is simply too familiar and clearly signposted from the first scene. Still, being notably shorter than most of the other shorts, it never really outstays its welcome, and comes across as filler material rather than actually offensive or worthy of skipping.
Thirdly is “Backpackers” from Songyos Sugmakanan, a piece which shows him trying his hand at a different type of horror to his slow burn ghost story “Dorm”. Here, he follows a couple of Japanese travellers, who hitchhike a lift from an edgy truck driver and his young charge. Part way through the journey, a banging noise comes from the back of the vehicle, and once the gruesome secret of its cargo is revealed, things quickly turn bloody. Basically a short, sharp take on “28 Days Later” and its kin, this segment works very well thanks to an escalating sense of tension and its sudden eruption into well-handled gore scenes. Its adrenalin fuelled shocks get the film firmly back on track, and again mark Sugmakanan as an important up and coming Thai terror talent.
In contrast, the penultimate tale “Salvage”, by acclaimed helmer Parkpoom Wongpoom, offers another kind of supernatural sleight of hand that basically has the feel of “Shutter” in a used car sales lot. The plot sees Thai-American singer Nicole Theriault as a pushy saleswoman who neglects to tell her clients that most of the cars have been fixed up for resale after accidents. Following an altercation involving a particularly dishonest transaction, her young son goes missing whilst playing amongst the cars. Although familiar in a distinctly EC Comics fashion, Wongpoom does a great job of drumming up a sinister atmosphere, and by playing upon the always popular theme of guilt, the short takes on a pleasingly twisted moral message feel. With the added bonus of a handful of respectable scares along the way, the segment again shows why the director is one of the country’s best horror helmers.
Strangely enough, despite venturing bravely into the always risky subgenre of comedy horror, the final segment, appropriately titled “The End”, is arguably the most entertaining and effective. The short was directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, who gleefully pokes fun at himself by setting the action on the set of the fictitious sequel “Alone 2”, where the actress playing the stereotypical ghost figure (Phijitra Ratsameechawalit) takes ill and dies during the filming of the climatic scene, only to apparently return from the dead to finish the production. Coming across as an impressively dedicated in-joke, especially with the casting of “Alone” leading lady Marsha Wattanapanich, Pisanthanakun pulls no punches and comes up with some genuinely hilarious gags at the expense of the increasing lack of invention shown in the genre. At the same time, he manages to weave a surprisingly gripping story, which although little more than a gag around trying to work out which of the cast members is actually a ghost, works very well and brings the anthology to a satisfyingly unpretentious close.
Overall, it’s really quite hard to fault “Phobia 2”, with its talented helmers generally on fine form, and with all but one of the short films delivering the goods. Although not quite without the occasional misstep, it entertains and thrills throughout, and provides yet more proof that the Thai horror genre is currently producing some of the strongest material from anywhere in the world.
Banjong Pisanthanakun, Paween Purikitpanya, Songyos Sugmakanan, Parkpoom Wongpoom (directors)
CAST: Erika Toda