Friday, January 9, 2015

The Unseeable

The Unseeable (2006) aka Pen Choo Kub Pee
Dir. Wisit Sasanatieng
Written by Kongkiat Khomsiri, “inspired by the work of” Hem Vejakorn
Starring Supornthip Choungrangsee, Siraphun Wattanajinda, Tassawan Seneewongse

In 1934 Siam, a pregnant young woman named Nualjan (Siraphun Wattanajinda, SECRET SUNDAY) is looking for her husband, who promised to return home by the baby’s birth but has mysteriously disappeared. For no discernable reason, she decides that it would be a good idea to stay at a rural mansion owned by Madame Ranjuan (Supornthip Choungrangsee, nothing) and kinda hang around there for awhile. Maybe hubby’s somewhere on this property instead of literally anywhere else in the world, she probably figures, might as well linger here and check things out, see what’s what. As it happens this turns out to be a good idea both for her and for us, because this ends up being a highly enjoyable Thai ghost story full of colorful oddities that feel (at least to someone with only a passing familiarity with Thai horror) surprisingly fresh for the hoary old haunted mansion genre.

For starters, it nicely avoids the played-out dark blacks and stark light which has been the staple of Western ghosts stories since forever, in favor of a warm, earth-tone palette, lots of bright greens and yellow-browns. This is rural Thailand, and it’s a jungle out there -- dense greenery blooms every direction, boxing this complex of modest structures in from the outside world, but not in the same way that the bleak and isolated locales of Western ghost stories usually do. THE UNSEEABLE doesn’t see nature --or for that matter, the ghosts themselves-- as inherently sinister or threatening, but rather as chaotic and myriad. Nualjan is treading in a world of strange and powerful forces, all operating in service of their own agenda and all potentially offering harm or benevolence, depending on how she plays her cards. It evokes Miyazaki’s SPIRITED AWAY, or even one of the inspirations of that film, Alice In Wonderland: this is a new world, your old preconceptions about how things are don’t necessarily apply anymore.

Most of the film, then, is a entertaining-but-not-especially-tense mystery, with a put-upon pregnant woman looking for her lost husband and getting stuck in a boarding house with some very odd local characters. Everyone seems kinda Twin-Peaksy an offbeat at first, but eventually we’ll come to realize things are even stranger than they look on the surface. We’ll gradually meet a rat-eating matron with a broken neck, a gut-sucking vampire, a mysterious swinging ghost, an elusive midnight gardener, a greedy Thai cousin of that Hand that menaced Michael Caine, and the notorious grandma Erb. And hey, finally, a creepy doll! The main narrative is a little slack, but who’s gonna complain when something weird is almost always happening?

Interestingly, director Sasanatieng insists that this movie is an homage to films of the 1930s and the stars of that era, including Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I don't know what he could possibly mean by that except that it has a pretty woman in 1930's fashion.

All this is fine and dandy, and by itself would be plenty sufficient to count THE UNSEEABLE as a mild but worthy pleasure. But the ending here is a doozy, bringing a slow but charming ghost story to the kind of horror ending that could only be described as, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “totally fucking bananas.” It may literally* feature the most twists I have ever seen in a movie. One flashback twist leads to another flashback twist, and just when you think it’s over and the final twist is revealed, another minor character walks up to the house and gets to experience a series of bonus twists about other minor characters. This might have worked better from a technical standpoint as an anthology set in the same house but dealing with different stories (spreading the twists out a little), but considering how much fun it is, you can’t in good conscience complain. It’s fun all the way through, though, with the perfect balance of heebie-jeebies and oddball chuckles to nail a classic spooky story tone. Good, fun ideas from a culture whose home-grown scary stories aren’t played out yet in this hemisphere. What more could you ask for? The only problem I have is the title -- not only can I confirm this is totally seeable, you should see it! Just avoid the sequel, THE UNWATCHABLE.

*And yes, I actually use the word “literally” as it was originally intended.

**Even more impressively, it’s director Wisit Sasanatieng’s first horror movie, after the Thai Western TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER (which ought to be a Giallo based on that title!) and the colorful rom-com CITIZEN DOG, presumably a sequel to either CITIZEN KANE or CITIZEN RUTH.


The Hunt For Dread October

  • LITERARY ADAPTATION: “inspired by the work of” 30's and 40's ghost story author and illustrator Hem Vejakorn
  • SEQUEL: None
  • REMAKE: None
  • BOOBIES: None
  • MONSTER: Gut-sucking vampire!
  • THE UNDEAD: Ghosts a-plenty!
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): None
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: ...uh, high I guess? I don't think it hit US theaters, but its streaming on netflix.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: You never, ever fuck with Grandma Erb.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Uh... not so great. Seems like people do a lot of seeing here.

Mostly female cast.

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