The latest horror anthology to emerge from Thailand is a truly shocking and horror-filled affair, but in all the wrong ways.
The anthology film has been a staple of the horror genre for decades, and mirrors the time-honoured tradition of gathering around a campfire to tell scary stories in quick succession, with each one out to top the previous effort. Examples of this format being employed in Asian Cinema can be traced back at least to Kobayashi Masaki's 1964 classic, Kwaidan - and probably even further. The last decade has seen a resurgence of the anthology film, both in Asia (Three, 4bia, Hy5teria), and in the West (V/H/S, The ABCs of Death), and have proved particularly successful at showcasing the talents of upcoming directors, as well as facilitating the exhibition of the short film format.
3AM is a triptych of Thai ghost stories from three relatively new local filmmakers. Patchanon Thammajira and Kirati Nakintanon both have a single feature film under their belts (horror drama Colic and romantic comedy First Kiss respectively), while Isara Nadee has already enjoyed a measure of international recognition with his haunted aeroplane thriller, Dark Flight.
Thammajira's The Wig sees two feuding sisters reconciling to fight a haunted ponytail sold to their parents' wig shop, while Nakintanon's The Corpse Bride has a curious funeral parlour attendee get a little too close to the dead newlyweds he is safeguarding, and in O.T. a group of mischievous office workers play a series of pranks on each other during a long nightshift.
3AM begins on safe, well-worn ground, as The Wig relies heavily on that overused motif of Asian Horror, the long-haired ghostly girl. In this case, our antagonist is a murdered woman, whose hair is stolen and then sold to a wig shop. Sisters May and Mint, who run the store, soon fall foul of the murderous barnet, and together with Mint's typically badly-behaved friends, are picked off one by one. Not only is The Wig highly derivative of everything from Nakata Hideo's The Ring to Won Shin-yeon's Korean chiller...um...The Wig, but it fails to develop its characters or produce any real scares. One clumsy moment of exposition aside, in which Mint spells out the sibling rivalry between her and May, we know nothing about these youngsters, nor do we care, while the twist ending is hardly worthy of the name, considering how overused it has become.
Rather than building up to the anthology's strongest entry, however, the lacklustre opening segment proves the best of the three. Kirati Nakintanon's entry, The Corpse Bride, sees a young lad take on the job of babysitting the prepped bodies of a newlywed couple, who had died under brutal circumstances on their wedding day. Despite claiming to have mortuary experience and being ordered not to open either of the two caskets, our dimwitted hero does precisely that the moment he is left alone. What unfolds is equally unimaginative, but admittedly somewhat tantalising as he proceeds to fool around with the rather gorgeous body of the titular heroine in increasingly necrophilic fashion. The film never dares to step into genuinely challenging territory, but the suggestion that it might gave me momentary glimpses of hope...even if they were, ultimately, left unfulfilled.
Without naming names, something I have noticed in many recent anthology films is that the more established directors sometimes produce the most lacklutre entries, while those who have yet to make a name for themselves often deliver the more inspired and effective work. This again proves to be the case with 3AM, as Isara Nadee's O.T. is a lame one-gag. At a too-cool graphic design company, frustrated bosses Tee and Ran play a prank on their lazy employees, who do nothing all day, only to work late and claim overtime. By rigging up a chair and a few other office ornaments to move by remote control, they are able to convince slackers Bump and Nging that the office is haunted. And so begins an increasingly repetitive game of tit-for-tat between the various colleagues as they attempt to out-scare each other. While their antics never once seem to get boring or predictable for each other, the film very quickly tries the patience of its audience. After over an hour of sub-par, wholly underwhelming, ineffectual horror, 3AM's audacity to end on such a weak note is almost insulting.
As is often the case with Asian Horror Cinema of-late, the problem is not the technical competency of the filmmakers, but the incredibly weak writing, that peddles the same tired, predictable set-ups, leading to over-used, cliched bait-and-switch pay-offs used repeatedly in the same movie! It is one thing for films to copy more successful, earlier films in the hope of riding their coattails, or to stick to a formula that has proved popular and profitable in the past, but to pull the same "it was all a dream" gag, or "the hero's really a ghost" reveal time after time fails to qualify even as mindless entertainment.
Suffice to say that 3AM is almost entirely worthless, and proves a strong early contender for worst film of 2013, thanks to an almost total lack of imagination and originality, coupled with a failure to grasp the basic underpinnings of what makes horror films scary. The fact that 3AM screened in 3D, a fact to which the filmmakers appeared completely oblivious, save for a single token "pointy" moment in each of the three segments, only seemed to underscore that this was a project devoid of merit, skill or justifiable reason to exist.