Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The House (2007)

Original title: Baan phii sing

(Not to be confused with the army of other movies of the same title)

Warning: even though I'm not spelling out the film's main plot twist, I'll discuss is concretely enough to possibly spoil it for some; obviously, if you think the mere mention of plot twists is a spoiler, please don't read reviews of anything, ever.

Thai TV journalist Chalini (Intira Charoenpura) - usually called "Nee" - is investigating the story of young (but not very young looking) doctor Vasan's (Worapong Nimwijtr) murder of his girlfriend. Her enquiries eventually lead Nee to the house - part of a housing program of the hospital the doctor worked in - Vasan lived and killed in. Despite the dire, syrup-y blood rich, warnings of a female ghost to not enter it, and the less freaky warnings of the place's caretaker, Nee still does enter, only to meet with visions of more dread, doom and murder and a fainting spell there. What a stroke of luck that her boyfriend, the slightly sleazy lawyer Nuanchavee (Chutcha Rujinanon) - called "Nuan" - is in the area to distract the caretaker and so is able to rescue her from the house when she doesn't come back.

For a lot of people, Nee's experiences with the supernatural until now would be quite enough to keep them from poking their noses into the murder case any further, but our heroine is of a much more persistent type. That persistence pays off well when the journalist finds out that Vasan is not the first doctor living in the house who killed his spouse or girlfriend. It's as if something dwelling in the house is out to perpetuate its own pain by reliving it through others.

While Nee is researching, her relationship with Nuan becomes increasingly strained. The couple never seems to have completely talked through Nuan's problems with Nee having a job, her not wanting to become pregnant right now and her not being much of a housewife (don't you like her already?), but what once was a point of contention now angers Nuan to the point of violence. Add to that a bunch of burned ghosts angrily whispering in his ears, trying to convince the lawyer Nee is cheating on him and has to die for that, and you might assume history is bound to repeat itself again.

Monthon Arayangkoon's The House is a bit of a frustrating effort. It's not a bad movie by any definition of the word: too slickly and effectively does the director work around an obviously low budget - at least until an ill-advised CGI sequence in the movie's finale that I'll just let slide because I may not like its execution but do like its concept; too clear are the film's ambitions at consciously using the opportunities its kind of ghost story offers to talk about things like the divides and the distrust that can grow in a relationship which doesn't really face important differences in outlook between the partners (with a pinch of "beginnings of abusive relationships" thrown in); too knowingly - sometimes even elegantly - does Arayangkoon use the standard tropes and shocks of post-Ringu Asian horror cinema; too decent is the work of the actors.

All these elements should add up to a movie that is interesting and good, probably even one well on its way to excellence, but (isn't there always a "but" with me?) The House falters when it goes the well-trodden route of the "plot twist at the beginning of the final act". Conceptually, The House's plot twist is a rather good one, seeing as it is based on subverting gender expectations (though one could also interpret it as a rather nasty jab at the belief in the equality of men and women - I don't read it that way), and does make sense in the context of the movie's plot, which is more than I can say about a lot of final act plot twists in horror films. Alas, the twist's execution leaves something to be desired, because The House only begins to emphasize the subjectivity of what it shows us after the twist has already been played out, and shows a few things that only work as red herrings but not as an organic part of the movie once the audience knows what's really going on.

Instead of the feeling of shock and the satisfaction of a well-constructed lie it goes for (I do like playfulness of that sort in my writing, when it works), The House's twist produced mild annoyance that the film had been lying to me all this time - which is a sure-fire way to destroy immersion exactly at the point when a movie should want its audience as deeply immersed in its world as possible.

Once pulled out of the movie this way, I found myself too distanced from the finale to care as much about it as the film wanted me too, still seeing and appreciating parts of its emotional point, but not feeling these points as I was supposed to.

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