BiFan 2016 Review: THE FOREST Is A Slow Burn Beauty
In Paul Spurrier's The Forest, Preecha (Asanee Suwan) walks into a bucolic village in nowhere Thailand to begin a new chapter in his life as teacher in the local village. Whatever hope and passion he has for his new profession quickly dissipates in the stultifying atmosphere where nothing happens, nothing works and the deadening hand of the local village headman Vithaya (Vithaya Pansringarm from Only God Forgives) aims to keep it that way
Preecha finds one person he can help - a poor mute village girl Ja (Wannasa Wintawong) who is bullied by her classmates. He is determined to set things straight, but soon comes up against petty politics at which point the story pivots away from Preecha and his stifling new job to Ja who lives and cares for her alcoholic, impoverished father.
When Ja is chased by bullying classmates into a supposedly haunted forest, she meets and is terrified by a Boy (Tanapol Kamkunkam) who appears to live in the forest. She and the boy gradually form a strange but powerful friendship.
Spurrier weaves these two story lines neatly as the boy begins knocking off Ja's enemies and all hell breaks loose in the village. Neither easily categorized as a drama nor a horror film, Spurrier returns to familiar territory he last explored in his groundbreaking 2005 feature P (the first Thai language feature written and directed by a foreigner).
In The Forest, Spurrier writes, directs, edits and scores the film, assisted by his wife, Jiriya Spurrier. The Forest has a true vérité feel, helped by the natural quality of the two child actors, who apparently were found at the local school near the remote filming location. Like few other westerners, Spurrier knows his territory. He opens a window into a rural Thailand that is captured realistically and without glamour. You feel the deadening heat and the swelter of a village held in stasis by oppressive, small time corruption.
Where Spurrier has truly upped his game from his last outing is in the dialogue and look of the film. Asanee Suwan (previously seen in Beautiful Boxer) gives a masterful performance as the sensitive ex monk quickly torn apart by emotional forces around him. The crackling sexual tension between he and his fellow teacher Nittaya (Thidarat Kongkaew) is perfectly pitched in dialogue that says one thing (duty and abstinence) while their looks and actions tell the real story (a train wreck of an affair is inevitable).
The film is visually breath-taking. As the Boy and Ja's friendship deepens, their world - the forest - becomes a magical playground full of lakes, caves, mountains and stunning vistas - a perfect metaphor for the innocence they have lost and the growing deep bond between them.
While The Forest takes its sweet time before the blood flows, Spurrier's sure hand cranks the tension steadily. It is in many ways a small story on a small budget but Spurrier controls and combines all the elements masterfully to deliver a far larger, profound cinematic experience.