Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng’s last two movies—the madcap musical western Tears of the Black Tiger and the bizarre yet bland Citizen Dog—were both visually striking and characterized by their originality and use brilliant pastel colors. Both achieved some measure of international acclaim and cult/arthouse popularity.
This time around Sasanatieng has dispensed with his usual colorful flair and sense of style to direct a more somber and traditional Asian horror film. I was curious to see what such an original director would do while working in this overloaded genre, and while the results aren’t really overwhelming they’re not exactly the “scary girl with black hair” film that’s been done to death, either.
Nualjan is a pregnant peasant seeking her missing husband. She takes shelter at a mansion on the outskirts of Bangkok despite the presence of Ms. Somjit, the severe and unpleasant woman who runs it. She is warned to stay away from the main house where the owner resides.
Nualjan quickly befriends Choy, another peasant girl staying at the house. She can’t help but notice that strange things are afoot at the mansion. People digging in the gardens at night, children that no one else seems to know about that disappear, a crazy old woman living in the back yard; there is an air of wrongness. Ms. Somit assures her that ghosts are everywhere, whether she believes in them or not; Choy tells her Ms. Somit is crazy, but at the same time Choy is scared to death of the dark. And the mysterious owner who refuses to go out in public doesn’t seem quite right.
Shot in muted greens and yellows, the rural jungle setting is certainly creepy at night. Shadows flit about just at the corner of the eye, and unexplained sounds lend an air of unease. The film is successful in generating an air of eeriness by keeping potential horrors lurking just out of sight, relying on humankind’s fear of the dark and the unknown creeping just outside to be frightening. And as far as being creepy goes it works, helped along by the fact that the protagonist is a pregnant woman.
What the film is not is particularly scary or horrifying. It has certain eerie ambiance that works up to a point, but unfortunately the film starts to unravel the more the plot is explained and the more the horrors start to come to light. Like many films, what isn’t seen is more frightening than what is seen, but you can only stretch that out for so long.
And here’s the thing with The Unseeable; it works better as a mystery/thriller with a dash of horror than it does as a horror movie. It’s a more cerebral piece of horror that’s about the story and the emotions of the people involved rather than anyone getting sliced and diced, which is not to say that there aren’t a few mildly disturbing moments involved. How much you enjoy it will be probably be determined by whether you like the story and the twisted ending. I’m not normally into “twist” endings (perhaps because so many of them have been so badly botched lately), but I have to admit that I liked the way the ending worked out.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for The Unseeable but I think the movie may appeal to people looking for something different. It’s a fairly unusual entry into a genre that’s been plagued with predictable carbon copy slashers and “scary little girl” Asian horror. If you’re into more thoughtful Asian horror, give it a look.