Phobia (aka 4Bia, 2008) Movie Review

Horror anthologies can be rather hit and miss affairs, ranging in quality from the excellent “Three” to the rather shabby “Black Night”. The awkwardly titled “4 Bia” (apparently playing on the word ‘phobia’, though causing no end of problems with pronunciation and search engines in the process) from Thailand is the latest film to take a stab at attempting the difficult task of delivering a package of consistently entertaining and sufficiently original short shockers. In its favour, the film does showcase the talents of four of the country’s most promising new helmers, most prominently Banjong Pisanthanakun and Pakpoom Wongpoom, whose “Shutter” and “Alone” have ranked among the very best Asian horror films from any country of the last few years. They are joined by Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, who directed the popular “Iron Ladies” and Paween Purijitpanya, previously responsible for the above average ghost romp “The Body” rounding off what on paper at least looks like a fairly safe bet for imaginative chills.

Thongkongtoon’s “Happiness” is the first segment, concerning a young woman called Pin (Maneerat Kham-uan) who is confined to her apartment after breaking her leg in a taxi crash. Bored and lonely, things start to look up when she begins receiving friendly text messages from a mysterious boy who she has never met. Although this initially helps pass the time quite nicely, the messages soon turn strange and then threatening as she comes to realise that her new friend may not be all he seems. “Happiness” is a textbook case of exactly what works best within the limitations of the short horror film format, being tense and creepy without ever overstretching its reach. Although the basic premise is familiar enough, with mobile phone related scares having long been established as a genre cliché, Thongkongtoon is nevertheless able to generate an impressive amount of suspense, expertly escalating the feeling of unease. Basic and economically handled, the piece revolves almost entirely around a handful of effective scares and twists, keeping the viewer on edge throughout its short running time.

This is followed by Purikitpanya’s “Tit for Tat”, a rather different, though no less familiar sounding prospect, being based around the tried and tested premise of a gang of high school bullies pushing the inevitable odd loner too far. Flashily directed, with plenty of visual flourishes and unusual lighting work, the short is a fast paced, pleasingly bloody affair with some good use of special effects. Benefiting from some entertainingly creative death scenes, its gusto more than makes up for the lack of originality, and by basically serving up a series of gruesome set pieces it succeeds admirably.

Perhaps surprisingly, despite the presence of director Wongpoom, the next entry is probably the weakest of the collection, with “In the Middle” focusing on gags rather than scares. The segment follows a group of four boys on a camping trip in the jungle, whose nightly chat turns inevitably to ghost stories. The next day they are involved in a rafting accident, and find themselves in the middle of their own supernatural adventure, as it slowly dawns upon them that one of their number may in fact be a member of the undead. In fairness, “In the Middle” is still quite enjoyable, mainly thanks to Wongpoom’s willingness to poke fun at the clichés of the genre through a series of jokes about the ever present long haired female ghost and the essential daftness of most twist endings – even throwing in a few laughs at the expense of his own “Shutter”. Unfortunately, these soon start to wear a little thin, even with the film’s short duration, and in the end only really serve to undermine any real sense of drama or indeed fear. As such, the film rather ironically falls somewhat flat towards the end, with a clearly telegraphed conclusion which seems to find Wongpoom shrugging his shoulders as he fails to rise above the conventions which he has taken such delight in mocking.

Thankfully, things pick up considerably with his directing partner Pisanthanakun’s excellent “Last Fright”, which helps the collection to end with a suitable shriek. The high concept plot revolves around an air hostess called Pim (Laila Boonyasak, who also starred in the Thai horror hit “Rahtree: Flower of the Night”), who ends up having to wait on a princess whose husband she had an affair with during a bumpy flight. The mean spirited battle between the two accidentally leads to the princess’ death, with Pim then having to escort her body back home on an empty plane. “Last Fright” is quite similar to “Happiness” in that it takes a fairly simple scenario and milks it for every last drop of suspense. Certainly, Pisanthanakun makes the very most of the taut situation, and although none of the scares are particularly unexpected, he keeps them coming thick and fast. The airplane makes for an unusual setting, with the problems resulting from the stormy weather adding another layer of fun tension, making for entertaining and tightly handled viewing.

Again, this represents the short film format at its best, delivering a series of fast paced shocks without worrying too much about the details. “4 Bia” certainly works well on these terms, and even with the slight dip represented by “In the Middle”, it manages to keep the viewer engaged throughout, and as such, it certainly stands as one of the better horror anthologies of recent years.

Banjong Pisanthanakun (“In the Middle”), Paween Purikitpanya (“Tit for Tat”), Youngyooth Thongkonthun (“Happiness”), Parkpoom Wongpoom (“Last Fright”) (director/screenplay)
CAST: Laila Boonyasak … Pim
Pongsatorn Jongwilak
Maneerat Kham-uan … Pin
Kantapat Permpoonpatcharasuk … Aey
Apinya Sakuljaroensuk … Pink
Witawat Singlampong … Diaw
Chon Wachananon

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