Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Laila Boonyasak, Maneeratkhan-Uan, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Witawat Singlampong
Directed by Youngyooth Thongkonthun, Bajong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom, Paween Purikitpanya
Every year when we come to Fantasia, there’s one movie we go into with little to no expectations and come out very pleasantly surprised. Last year, without a doubt, it was Mulberry Street, which I’m so glad I can say is readily available now on DVD. This year it was the Thai omnibus 4bia, and unfortunately it may be a while before this one comes home.
The project was pretty simple: four hot up-and-coming Thai directors write and then direct their own short film, put all four together, and release it as something that gives the viewer some true variety. The execution was above and beyond what anyone in the Fantasia audience expected; each story was uniquely its own beast and could have all worked as stand-alone shorts, and while there was no thread connecting them other than them all being ghost stories, they flowed very naturally into one another.
First we have “Happiness”, the story of a beautiful girl who’s stuck in her apartment because of a broken leg. She passes the time texting friends on her cell phone but eventually longs for some more interesting conversation. She posts her name and number on a message board, and before you know it, she’s having a text conversation with some mystery boy.
Things actually go pretty un-creepily until he asks for a picture of her. She sends it, then asks for one back, but only gets the same picture. When she calls him on in and tells him to play fair, he tells her to “look very closely beside you”, and that’s when things get freaky.
“Happiness” is unique first and foremost because it is done 100% without any dialogue. In the Q&A that followed the premiere, its director said he just wanted to see if he could do it when asked why this was. Successful test, I would say, because despite having seen similar scenarios before, “Happiness” has some genuinely creepy moments throughout and a very cool ending that brings it all together.
Next is “Tit for Tat”, which follows a bunch of school buddies who get off on torturing those they deem weaker than them, and the girls who let it all happen in the name of looking cool. One particular night they grab an oft-tormented kid and take him for a ride in their pickup truck, beating the shit out of him in the truck bed while speeding down the highway. But when they threaten to push him off the truck and accidentally let go of him, they know they’ve gone too far.
To make matters worse, though, it seems this very same kid had gotten sick of being pushed around before this incident and conjured up some pretty sick black magic in the form of a picture. As soon as you look into the eyes of the image, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of a pretty spectacular death such as being impaled on a flagpole or crushed by an air conditioner.
This episode has a few issues; the camera work is way too jerky most of the time to the point you’ll have a hard time figuring out what’s going on, which takes me right out of the moment. It also takes forever to get to the end, even though you know what it’s going to be as soon as the final shot opens, but it makes up for these setbacks with pure viciousness and a very slick visual style when the camera can sit still for five seconds.
“In the Middle” was the clear-cut best of the bunch and one of the most crowd-pleasing shorts I’ve seen in a long time. Four friends are telling one another ghost stories while camping out in the jungle, and one of them promises that if he were to die, he would haunt whoever is sleeping in the middle that night. They all have a good nervous laugh and eventually fall asleep without incident.
The next day they’re out white water rafting and something terrible happens, causing the boat to flip and them to lose one of their own. They ultimately have to give up looking and make camp, hoping their friend makes it back to them. Sure enough he shows up soaking wet later that night, but he’s acting very, very strange. And before you know it, they’re all asking one another if he really did survive the accident.
What works so well in “In the Middle” are the characters; each one is unique and their quirkiness make them instantly memorable. The dialogue they have is natural and more often than not laugh-out-loud funny, especially when they take modern day horror movies to task for their tired conventions, even calling out Shutter, which two of the directors in this anthology made. “In the Middle” is genuinely funny and does have some pretty good boo-scares; plus it boasts the best ending of any of the shorts herein.
Finally we have “Last Fright”, which is sadly the weakest of the bunch, while also the one most similar to any Tales From the Crypt episode. In it, a princess requests the same crew she and her husband had a year before when she charters a flight to go away without him, the two of them having marital difficulties.
What the audience doesn’t know right away is that the stewardess on this flight is the reason for the princess’ marital difficulties, having carried on an affair with the prince since they met on the last flight. What the stewardess doesn’t know right away is that the princess knows this and is the sole reason she requested her to serve her on the flight. But the princess has an allergy to shrimp, you see, and the stewardess wants to see her suffer a bit once she starts treating her like shit, so she makes very little effort to remove it from her in-flight dinner. Before you know it the princess is violently ill and when they land has to be immediately hospitalized.
Of course, the attendant doesn’t expect the princess to die because of her little prank, so imagine her surprise when she drops dead in the hospital the very next day. Now they have to take the exact same flight to transport the princess’ body home with the stewardess now in charge of making sure the corpse, tightly wrapped like a traditional mummy, isn’t damaged on the flight. I bet you can figure out where it goes from here, and you’d be pretty much on the nose with any standard scenario that has a person trapped in a place with something out to get her and no hope of escape.
It’s not the best way to end what is otherwise a strong anthology, but then it could’ve been a helluva lot worse considering some off the collaborations we’ve been subjected to recently. A discussion after the film led me to the realization that there really hasn’t been a well-made anthology for about ten years, which makes it even more significant. 4bia stands as not only the highlight of the entire time I had at Fantasia, but also one of the best anthologies I’ve seen in a long time
Hopefully some smart distributor out there will pick this up soon. It is the #2 highest grossing horror movie in Thailand right now, so it’s definitely got some street cred. A good DVD release of this would be cool. A small theatrical run would be ideal because it really should be seen with a crowd. Of course we’ll let you know as soon as we get word on either one!
4 1/2 out of 5