Proving once again that Thailand is leading the charge when it comes to Asian horror cinema, three of Thailand youngest horror directors teamed up with a veteran director and all contributed a short of their own for the anthology 4bia, or Phobia, in case the tricky use of numbers for letters got beyond you. Two of the names should already be familiar to the ScreenAnarchy family. Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom are the makers of the original and much, much better Shutter as well as last year’s Audience Award Winner, Alone. They were joined by one of their contemporaries, Paween Purijitpanya, who directed Body #19, and, shooting a horror film for the first time, Yongyoot Thongkongtoon. He also happens to be the mentor of the other three directors. I cannot help but think these lines from A New Hope. Indulge me for a second.
Darth Vader-The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner. Now I am the master.
Obi-wan Kenobi-Only a master of evil, Darth.
Why yes. Yes they are!
Happiness (Fear of Being Alone): So up first is the mentor, out to prove he has learned a thing or two from his young students. Directed by Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, it's the story of a lonely young woman who is recovering from a broken leg. She starts to receive anonymous text messages on her cell phone. What Yongyoot does really well here is make us really like her. She giggles and squeals when she finds out this mysterious messenger is a guy. We giggle and squeal with her. She finds delight in these quick exchanges but her anonymous admirer start leaving odd clues about himself. When she is asked to send a picture of herself she receives the exact same image back when ‘he’ sends her a picture of himself. No sooner do the messages get dark and threatening then her admirer is texting her saying ‘he’ is outside her building, he is coming up the stairs, he is in the hallway, he is in her room. And the pay off is massive! Biggest scare of the night. Beautifully shot and gloriously executed. This veteran’s first shot at horror is a huge success.
Tit for Tat (Fear of Reprisal): Directed by Paween Purijitpanya, his short is easily the most frantic and kinetic of the four ripping off at a furious pace and not letting up for a second. A young boy is bullied at school after he discovers that some of the other students are smoking weed and they are expelled as a result. This young boy is pushed to edge and he calls out a curse upon this group and we watch the systematic dispatch of each bully by black magic justice. I like the energy of this short. It had some good jumps in it. Where Paween lost me though was with the choice to replace the demons and abused boy at the end of his movie with CG characters. He looked like a poor man’s Gollum. Had Paween chosen to go with practical effects and prosthetics I think I and the audience would have responded better to the end of his film. Any sense of reality and fear was lost when CG took over.
In the Middle (Fear of What Goes Bump in the Night): Banjong Pisanthanakun directed the biggest crowd pleaser of the night. His tale of four best friends going white water rafting and camping in the remote jungle, sharing ghost stories along the way, was a perfect blend of humor and scares. During their trip they talk about movies, even at times taking the piss out of Banjong’s own film Shutter. At night they argue over who gets to sleep in the middle of the tent because they have scared one another into believing that a ghost will haunt whoever sleeps on the end. One of the boys foolishly swears, “If I die, I’ll come back and haunt who ever sleeps in the middle first”. The boat capsizes, he never surfaces and is presumed drowned the next day while water rafting. Not only does Banjong’s script have you laughing from start to finish but there is enough spooky haunting going on to give you the chills and thrills you would expect from this growing master of horror. Perfect, and the best of the bunch!
Last Fright (Fear of the Dead): Parkpoom Wongpoom takes us into the confines and tight spaces aboard an airliner on a charter flight for the princess of a fictional country/territory. Pim is the only stewardess aboard the plane. No one else is available to help. What we discover is that the lone stewardess, Pim, was involved in an affair with the princess’ husband/lover. The princess proceeds to make this trip a living hell for Pim. To get back at her Pim feeds her a meal that has had shrimp in it, something the Princess is allergic to. Of course the princess dies, I’m not giving away anything here and her royal family requests that her body be sent back immediately for royal cremation. On the stormy trip back home Pim is then haunted by the princess. Of all the four films in this anthology this one had the least impact on me. Believe me though that this isn’t a bad thing as Parkpoom’s film would kick the pants of any other horror film out there. I just didn’t think he held his scares long enough. I also think it would have been better if it was just inside Pim’s head. There is a great shot in the film where she is freaking out, grabs an axe, and goes to the cockpit door and screams to be let in. The pilot looks through the eye hole and it is a great shot of her, screaming with the axe in hand, blood streaming down her face. But that is about the best of it. Too bad. Still good. But, too bad.
The verdict? You would be hard pressed to find a horror anthology that delivers the goods on all levels: visuals, storytelling, style, humour and scares!