Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Film: Phobia 2

Phobia 2 (Dir: Poolvoralaks, Pisanthanakun, Purikitpanya, Sugmakanan & Wongpoom, 2009, Thailand, 127 min)

Screened at the 2010 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Yow! Although I was looking forward to this follow-up to the original Phobia (a.k.a. 4bia) which was the highlight of the festival two years ago, there was also a little bit of that worry that comes with sequels — can they pull it off again? In this case, the answer is almost unreservedly yes.

It helps, I suppose, that this isn't really a sequel, properly speaking, so much as a companion anthology of short films. We have gone from four segments to five, but otherwise, there isn't much of the "same, but bigger" ethos that haunts many a sequel. We do get a shared preoccupation with ghost stories and the supernatural, which serve as compelling metaphors for the tensions between modernity and tradition in Thailand today.

The ghosts are front and centre in the opening segment "Novice", where a young man running away from a misdeed is reluctantly joining a monastery. I don't know a lot about Buddhism, but I think I'd know enough to leave ceremonial offerings to the "hungry ghosts" alone. 'Nuff said. A nice entry into the film, this was deliberately paced at first, but had some effectively spooky payoffs.

"Ward", the story of a young man spending a unquiet night in a hospital room next to an elderly comatose man, has an nicely creepy undercurrent. The excellent "Backpackers" takes the action to the countryside, where a pair of young Japanese tourists suddenly find themselves facing any hitch-hiker's worst nightmare — and then it gets much worse than that. For fear of spoiling the fun I will say no more except a) there was one particular moment in a scene with a totally dark screen that had one of the best bits of sound design that I've heard in awhile and b) this segment got loud cheers and wild applause from the TAD crowd as it concluded.

Anything might seem like a letdown after that, but "Salvage", while decent, would probably be viewed as the weakest link here by any measure. Taking the idea of a ghost story in a different direction, this plays out rather like a Twilight Zone episode. Set in a used car lot that specializes in selling vehicles refurbished after grisly accidents, a saleswoman's lost child is just the start of a cavalcade of spooky revelations.

The capper and crowning achievement came with the final segment, Banjong Pisanthanakun's "In The End". It's here that the movie feels most like a sequel, with the return of the hapless Ter, Aey, Shin and Puak from the first Phobia's "In The Middle". Here, they are part of the crew shooting Alone 2, a fictional sequel to Pisanthanakun's real-life breakthrough film. Filled with meta-humour riffing like this, the characters are savvy in the lore and twists of horror movies but are still scared stiff when they find themselves smack-dab in the middle of just such a scenario. When a dead actress returns from beyond the grave to finish shooting her scene, "the show mud go on," as one character malaprops. Hurtling along with a goofy charm, this sends the film out on a high note — just be ready for the twist.

Overall, a very good time. Effectively shot by all hands, the segments are well-ordered for pacing. Fully worth seeking out.

Preceded by: the six-minute Game Night (Dir: Geronimo Deadly), part of the series of all-Canadian shorts running before features at the fest. Done for a 100-hour film-making challenge by local comedy collective Geronimo Deadly, whose Bumrush appeared at the 2008 Toronto After Dark. Quickly-paced story about a board game gone awry, this will serve as a reaffirmation for anyone who believes clowns are creepy and evil. Gets genuine laughs and moves quickly.1

1 You can catch this one on youtube here.

No comments:

Post a Comment