Thursday, April 1, 2010

In short: 303 Fear Faith Revenge (1998)

It's 1960. A quintet of freshmen (among them a very young Ananda Everingham) at a Catholic boarding in Thailand get awfully nosy when they see the photo of Prince Daovadeng, who was at the school in 1952, in the institution's hall of fame. The interest of at least one of them might have something to do with the fact that Numkang (Taya Rogers), the daughter of the meanest teacher around and only girl in the area, is a self-declared fan of the charming young man's photograph.

When they are not tortured by their seniors, our freshmen do a bit of research like proper boy detectives. Early on, they learn that Daovadeng has committed suicide, but nobody at school seems to be willing or able to tell them why. The school records are missing pages. The obvious solution to problems in the detective biz like these is to grab the nearest available Ouija board and hold a nightly séance.

Daovadeng's ghost likes to make bad jokes, but is also quite informative. Turns out he didn't kill himself at all but was murdered, although the friends aren't able to find out by whom or why.

Although the séance has been quite helpful, it probably wasn't the best idea anyway, because very soon afterwards someone or something murders one of our boy detectives. That first killing looks like an accident, but soon the school's phone lines are down, a storm conveniently blocks the roads, and other students come to unhappy endings. It all must have something to do with the dark, guilty secret in the school's past that cost Daovadeng his life. But is the killer human or a ghost, and if it is a ghost, is it Daovadeng's?

Well, I'll have to spoil at least a part of the answer to that question right now, or I might as well not talk about the movie at all.

At first, 303 seems to be a not atypical school murder mystery with supernatural underpinnings that might or might not lead somewhere, but the film's final thirty minutes turn into something quite close to a supernatural slasher. As it changes genres, the film also changes tempo. Initial deliberateness turns into, well, not exactly an action-packed thrill-ride, but at least something faster and bloodier than I had initially expected of the film.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that, to be honest. I liked the more deliberate beginning of the movie and its attempts at building characters with slightly more depth than you usually find in films set among teenagers well enough. While the transformation into a horror film works inside of the film's internal logic and doesn't ruin anything that came before (as happens often enough in my beloved genre), it doesn't make a lot of use of what the movie's first hour built up. Frankly - and this comes from someone who is usually the first to complain when the supposedly supernatural in films is explained away at the last minute - I think 303 would be a stronger film if the murders and the murder motives had been caused by the metaphorical ghosts of the past working in conjunction with the troubles of the students in 1960, instead of being caused by a very literal possessing ghost.

This is not meant to slam 303. Director Somching Srisupap does a nice, solid directing job, gets serviceable, sometimes even better, performances out of his very young actors, and manages to let the film's genre transformation work well enough not too annoy, so I'm mostly complaining that a good, entertaining film isn't the very good, depressing film I would have preferred.


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