The recent boom in Thai horror has revolved to a large extent around anthology films, with the likes of “Phobia” and its sequel having impressed both critics and audiences. “Still”, released domestically as “Tai Hong”, is the latest in this trend, with “Bangkok Love Story” director Poj Arnon teaming with indie helmers Chartchai Ketknust, Manus Worrasingha and Tanwarin Sukkhapisit for four tales of the supernatural. To differ itself from its many peers, the film focuses not on urban legends and Thai folklore, but on actual incidents, interpreting them in suitably sinister fashion. The film certainly proved popular with domestic viewers, being another genre box office hit that out performed the likes of the new Hollywood version of “The Wolfman”.
The film kicks off with “Flame”, from Chartchai Ketknust, inspired by a real life tragedy in which a fire on New Year’s Eve in 2008 killed a great many nightclub-goers. The story follows a young man who survived the blaze, only to be haunted by the spirit of his girlfriend, tormenting him with visions of her death. This is followed by Manus Worrasingha’s “Imprison”, revolving around a criminal who gets locked up in a dingy jail cell in which another man recently died. In addition to the creepy atmosphere and having to take responsibility for his own actions, his situation is worsened by a sinister man in the next cell, who fills his head with awful suggestions, slowly pushing him over edge. Next is “Revenge”, by Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, in which a twitchy mute drug dealer dumps the body of a girl he killed into the water tank on the roof of his apartment building. As the corpse decays it begins to taint the water supply, with unpleasant side effects on the residents. Poj takes up the reigns for the final instalment, “Haunted Motel”, an offbeat short revolving around a mean spirited prostitute who ends up in a rundown motel with a couple of oddball customers. After the two men claim to have seen a ghost she robs them and attempts to flee, only to be stopped by the weird old woman who owns the place.
With horror anthologies all too often being patchy affairs, it’s pretty remarkable that the recent wave from Thailand has managed to maintain such a decent level of quality, something which “Still” thankfully continues. The real life grounding of the stories does help to give the film a different feel to “Phobia” and its kin, and the scenarios are likely to be every bit as recognisable to non-Thai audiences, being a successful mix of the everyday and the supernatural. Although inevitably there is some variation in quality between the four instalments, each does bring something of its own to the table, and despite the absence of any linking segments or themes they sit together comfortably in terms of tone. Of the four, “Revenge” is the real standout, with a gruesome, skin crawling plot that whilst not particularly original is very effective, making great use of its scant running time to pack in plenty of thrills and tension. “Haunted Motel” is of a similar quality, though with an odd vein of humour running through it, not to mention a bizarre final twist that ends things on a rather abrupt note. “Flame” does attempt to offer something a bit different, and though ponderous and lacking in drive it has a few suitably surreal moments along the way to its explosive conclusion. Although reasonably entertaining, “Imprison” is probably the weakest of the bunch, mainly due to a slow pace and the fact that not much of interest actually happens.
All four are well directed, and the film as a whole is visually strong, being neon soaked and colourful without resorting to too much flashiness or fast editing. Benefitting from good production values, the shorts are pleasingly atmospheric, the dilapidated, almost rotting apartment complex of “Revenge” in particular making for a memorably sinister location. Though the film is never terribly explicit or nasty, it does have its fair share of unpleasant moments scattered throughout, often in the form of EC Comics style twists as is usual for the form, and there are enough frights to keep most genre fans more than happy, if probably not quite quaking in their boots.
“Still” is certainly a very worthy outing, and another fine and ghoulishly entertaining Thai horror anthology. Whilst of course there is no real reason for film makers to run out of ideas for such compilation pieces, it’s nevertheless reassuring to see some level of thought and effort going into a production like this, rather than just throwing together a grab bag of scraps in half hearted manner, as has often been the case with genre anthologies from around the world in the past.
Poj Arnon (segment “Haunting Motel”), Chatchai Katenut (segment “Flame”), Thanwarin Sukhaphisit (segment “Revenge”), Manussa Vorasingha (segment “Imprison”) (director)
CAST: Mai Charoenpura … Phii Dao (segment “Haunting Motel”)
Akara Amarttayakul … Arm (segment “Flame”)
Supakson Chaimongkol … Nuan (segment “Revenge”)
TAE … Gong (segment “Imprison”)
Uttaporn Teemakorn … Niranam (segment “Imprison”)
Wiradit Srimalai … Puu (segment “Revenge”)
Pimolrat Pisolyabutr … Pang (segment “Flame”)
Kachapa Toncharoen … Phii Naknaen (segment “Haunting Motel”)