Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/23/08 16:28:23

"Four flavors of Thai horror."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: So, what kind of horror movie do you like? Horror is a genre with room enough for plenty of variation, and the four directors brought together to make "4bia" ("See Prang" in its native Thailand) have done a very good job of each telling a different kind of ghost story while keeping the overall quality of the movie very high. When I say I can't choose any one segment as a favorite, I mean it as a compliment.

The first segment - "Happiness" directed by Youngyooth Thongkonthun - makes a strong early bid for the title. In it we meet Pin (Maneerat Kham-uan), a pretty young girl with a broken leg in an apartment by herself for the most part. She's got unpaid bills piling up and not a lot to do other than watch TV and try to job-hunt on the internet. Of course, she's not just looking for work online, but company, which she (sort of) finds with a boy who exchanges text messages with her. Thongkonthun works a nice slow build here, ratcheting the tension up in small ways, saving up for and delivering a big finish. Kham-uan does a nice job, too, making Pin someone we like almost immediately, more or less having a one-woman show once things get rolling, but handling it quite well.

Next up is Paweem Purikitpanya's "Tit for Tat", an entirely different kettle of fish. A group of high-school punks, led by Deaw, are bullying Ngid. One of the girlfriends, Pink (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), thinks they're going too far, and when Ngid dies... Well, he doesn't do it without engaging in a bit of black magic. This one's for the gore lovers, as the members of the gang get wiped out in progressively nasty ways. Pink's the obvious Final Girl, as she's shown regret and is probably as smart as the other four or five put together, but given how much blood Purikitpanya has gleefully spilled, it's very much an open question whether she'll get out of this in one piece. Some of the CGI work is admittedly dodgy, but the practical effects are good and numerous enough to make up for it.

After all that blood, it's time to laugh a bit, so we jump to Parkpoom Wongpoom's "In The Middle". Four friends - Shin, Aery, Ter, and Pak - are on a rafting trip, telling each other ghost stories as they settle in for the night. The next day, their raft overturns, and when the boys drag themselves out of the water, they begin to suspect that one of their number is no longer among the living. Wongpoom tells a raucous story, with a running joke about spoiling the ends of movies - including, in a sense of fair play, Wongpoom's own Shutter. It's the most lightweight of the parts, only occasionally hitting a moment more frightening than funny (though there are a few).

Finally, the other director of Shutter, Banjong Pisanthanakun, checks in with one "Last Fright". It starts with Pim (Laila Boonyasak), a flight attendent who has been specifically requested for Princess Sophia's charter. Sophia intends on making Pim's trip miserable, but her plan backfires - Sophia dies, but a princess's body cannot be shipped as cargo. So the plane must fly back, with Pim sharing the cabin with Sophia's mummy - and, really, who wants to share a tight space from which there can be no escape with the mummified remains of someone who hates them? It's a delicious situation, which Pisanthanakun plays like a fiddle. The segment bounces between black comedy and good old-fashioned shocks, as we wonder whether Pim is being haunted by Sophia or her own guilty conscience. Boonyasakis very good here, making Pim a bit prideful, though still sympathetic.

All four segments are fine examples of their genre and type, tense and well-shot; even scenes looking out Pin's window are beautifully composed (I'm sure there have been movies to come out of Thailand that didn't look great, but I don't recall ever seeing one). The filmmakers opt against a framing sequence, instead dropping bits of dialog and background information to connect the stories for those who want to see connections, but allowing them to stand enough alone that none of the stories make the others seem inappropriate in mood.

That's often the biggest trick in horror anthology movies, and "4bia" is wise to handle it through easter eggs rather than an overarching story. It allows four enjoyable stories to work together, rather than against each other.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.