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Unseeable, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A thoroughly haunted house."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Wisit Sasanatieng isn't exactly a secret that die-hard film buffs are keeping to themselves; his films have just been hard to stumble upon in the west. Miramax, unable to figure out how to market a garish Thai Western, sat on distribution rights for his first, "Tears of the Black Tiger", for five years before Magnolia bought them out; his second, "Citizen Dog", managed to be even more peculiar. "The Unseeable", however, is pretty straightforward: A good old-fashioned story of a creepy house with a creepy mistress and creepy servants.

Nualjan (Siraphan Wattanajinda) comes to this place looking for her husband; he left several months ago to take care of something in Bangkok but has yet to return. The very pregnant Nualjan stops at the estate for the night, only to find the next morning that taxis won't sop at the place because of the various dark magics that seem to haunt the house. She winds up staying in the servants' quarters, and her talkative new roommate fills her head with stories of vampires and the twisted old woman who lives in the shed. Nualjan sees strange things herself - a little girl who seems to disappear when she rounds a corner, an ominous chest that housekeeper Somjit (Tassawan Seneewongse) screams at Nualjan for approaching, and all the rules Somjit lays down. There's no need for supernatural explanations to find Madame Ranjuan (Suporntip Chuangrangsri) off-putting; she's been a recluse since her own husband vanished, and her behavior around the baby after Nualjan give birth is rather odd.

As you can see, there's a bit of an "everything including the kitchen sink" feel to Kongkiat Khomsiri's story. Nualjan encounters nearly every type of supernatural entity known to film (with a couple of ice queens thrown in for good measure, receives cryptic warnings, and has disturbing flashbacks. Gratifyingly, it doesn't feel like overkill; Khomsiri and Sasanatieng prime and tease the audience by contrasting the unnerving things Nualjan sees with how laughable things sound when her excitable, superstitious roommate Choy describes them to her. It's clever reverse psychology; we go in expecting a ghost story, and we get things that look supernatural, but we're inclined to look for a rational explanation because they make the alternative sound like superstitious nonsense.

Of course, I'm not sure that the revelations we do get at the end make complete sense. They explain a few things that may have been bugging the audience, but not necessarily convincingly; it's less likely to elicit an "of course!" than a "well, okay." At times I wondered if there hadn't originally been a different ending planned, because the setup seemed to be pointing in that direction. Plenty of points to the collaborators for making the residents of the Ranjuan estate various kinds of creepy, though.

Tonally and visually, this is a very different movies than the ones Sasanatieng wrote himself, even at their most grim or melancholy, there was always the feeling that something whimsical could appear in the next brightly-colored scene. Here, the director gives us a constant sense of foreboding, with doom hanging over every minute. The dominant color in the palette is a dark green, from the plant life which seems to overgrow the estate's garden and force its way into the house. Green is the color of life, of course, but here it's stifling, crowding anything human out of its environment, swallowing the modern, rational world. In that way, it's very much like Sasanatieng's previous films - very visually distinctive, exaggerating the colors of the real world until we're just short of a breaking point. It's a fantastic world where anything can happen, but they're not necessarily good things.

While Suporntip Chuangrangsri and Tassawan Seneewongse are mainly there to play hostile and mysterious, I liked Siraphan Wattanajinda a lot. She makes Nualjan somewhat cowed by the rich, presumably more sophisticated women who own and run the estate, but with enough native determination to keep trying to figure things out. We get the impression of a reasonably capable young woman dropped into a thoroughly unreasonable situation, and we don't lose respect for her when her first reaction to a new ghoul is to scream. She's surprised, not weak; as the end shows us, she might be strong to a fault.

"The Unseeable" is heavy on the atmosphere and light on the blood, which is fine with me, although the script could certainly be a bit tighter. What faults it has certainly don't dent my faith and interest in Wisit Sasanatieng as a director, and I'll be first in line when his next movie (a martial arts actioner about a one-armed man) comes to town.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15995&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/03/07 20:02:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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