Friday, April 29, 2016

Past Misdeeds: The Screen at Kamchanod (2007)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

In 1987, two movie projectionists running one of the mobile movie screens typical of rural Thailand of the time were hired to screen a film in an empty field lying right in the middle of the jungle.

At first, there didn't seem to be an audience, but sometime in the middle of the film, people suddenly appeared in the field only to disappear again without a trace a little later. The projectionists returned to Bangkok and have themselves seemingly disappeared.

Now, twenty years later, the physician Dr. Yuth (Achita Pramoj Na Ayudhya) has become obsessed with the story. Yuth is convinced that the occurrences at Kamchanod are the proof for the existence of the paranormal, namely ghosts, and that if he could only repeat the screening of the same film in the same place, he could gather this proof for all the world to see and admire him.

With the help of a former journalist and his wife the Doctor manages to discover the whereabouts of the missing projectionists - one of them is now a mentally disturbed old man deathly afraid of something an amulet he holds onto for dear life is supposed to protect him from, spending his life seemingly permanently chained to a hospital bed. The other died shortly after the original screening in a fire in his own Bangkok cinema.

Nonetheless, the mysterious film has somehow survived the fire. Yuth decides that a pre-screening is in order and watches the film together with his bruised and battered girlfriend Orn (Pakkaramai Potranan), his research assistant and his wife and the young homeless junkie Roj (Namo Tongkumnerd) who has been quite helpful in the search for the film with his knack for opening locks. The film itself isn't in the best of states and doesn't make much sense anyhow, but watching it seems to open a door.

The small group finds itself no longer alone in the cinema. They are beleaguered by apparitions always keeping just outside of view, until something seems to break through the ceiling, and everyone finds themselves in their beds, without a clue of what truly happened to them or how they even left the cinema.

After that experience, things quickly deteriorate. Everyone in the small group is again and again frightened and attacked by ghosts, until people crack and begin to die. The only hope for survival and sanity seems to be the repeat screening at Komchanod.

The supernatural however, isn't the largest problem the characters have to cope with. There is something terribly wrong in the relationship between Yuth and Orn, so wrong that the young woman tries to seek Roj's help - with less than pleasant results for her.

The Screen at Komchanod is only the directorial debut of Songsak Mongkolthong, but it is quite an achievement. For the first part of its runtime, the film disguises itself as pure, scare-oriented horror cinema without much interest in commenting on the human condition (or the weather). I certainly wouldn't have held it against the film if it had stayed that way, because Mongkolthong is very adept at timing the scary ghost stuff just right, and this type of horror is mostly about the timing. Also on the plus side when it comes to the scares is Mongkolthong's scarce use of the dreaded jump and whoosh cuts. There are some of them in the film, but not enough to get annoying.

The ghosts themselves are very well done too, keeping well inside the traditions of Thai horror cinema, but tending to the more grotesque side of that tradition, granting the film more than one moment of finely disturbing visuals. It is certainly interesting to add that Mongkolthong isn't shy at all about showing us a lot of the ghosts, often even in good light, something that could have gone terribly wrong with cheap or unintentionally ridiculous looking creatures. Fortunately, the special effects crew is more than up to the task and delivers some very memorable creatures (personal favourites: the ghost with the hand problem and the fat white guy).

During the course of the film, it turns out that just scaring and disturbing his viewer isn't all Mongkolthong is interested in - the farther the plot comes along, the more emphasis is put on the complete emotional and moral brokenness of its characters who are all abusers and abused of one type or the other, with special interest on the thinness of the line that can divide the abused from the abuser.

This theme isn't exactly uncommon in Thai horror cinema, but the other genre films interested in it I have seen believe in things like hope and redemption. The Screen isn't that optimistic - the only character who can be called innocent dies after going through an even more terrible ordeal than the rest of them, while the plot's only survivor certainly doesn't deserve his survival in the sense that he has learned something from what has happened to him or tries to better himself, but only survives to perpetuate the supernatural cycle anyway.

The Screen at Kamchanod's take on horror as a combination of ghosts, the grotesque and subtle misanthropy is one I'd like to see more of from Thai film in the future, although the disquieting effect this style of film can have is certainly not for everyone.
Right now, I feel a strong need to watch something fluffy, with unicorns.

No comments: