When it comes to profoundly frightening horror, it's difficult to think of many regions that demonstrate master craftsmanship superior to that of the Far East filmmakers. And it's continually intriguing to consider how the cultural and mythological themes forming the gloriously murky foundations of Far East horror output manage to translate so well across into the West. Indeed, sometimes it feels as though the cultural distance existing between the West and these Eastern tales of tortured, slighted, desperately vengeful spirits almost seems to amplify the volume of our fear; and moreover, we appear to be prepared to suspend our disbelief with an abandon we wouldn’t possibly countenance with a comparable Western product.
Naturally, to craft a film harnessing tales of the supernatural and convincing the viewer (or the viewer’s subconscious, at least) that the peril, threat, and danger is worthy of psychological and physiological response, is no simple task, and the finest examples demonstrate a remarkably subtle awareness of how to burrow underneath our skin and take abrasive action against our nerves. Director Monthon Arayangkoon certainly works hard in an effort to attain this paragon in his 2007 chiller The House (Baan phi sing), and whilst he enjoys some success in his quest to rattle and unsettle, the end result is a slightly clumsy and heavy-handed picture which lacks the finesse of the better examples on offer.
It’s this dearth of subtlety which ultimately harms Arayangkoon’s third directorial foray (The House was originally released in 2007, a year after his mildly popular horror, The Victim), and this is evident on several levels. Perhaps most fundamentally, the delivery of the storyline - and the punctuation of the storyline with the scares and the shocks - is a jumbled affair, with the director stuffing so many themes and filmic references into the running time, that he fails to find a consistent groove for this film of his own. Arayangkoon also adheres to the premise that all visual shocks are fair game at any point, and in doing so robs himself of the opportunity to build any substantial, cumulative tension or fear. This isn't to say that the visual, visceral shocks aren't effective when considered in isolation; certainly some of the early shocks are decidedly unsettling, and Arayangkoon demonstrates that he is fully capable of unleashing a substantial blow to the senses within the safety of a relatively small time slice (the bridge scene is highly enjoyable and quite tense, and the scene in the prison is certainly executed with gusto). Yet for all of our revelling in these short lived, hellish snapshots, the impact is diluted across the length of the film, as we gradually become desensitised thanks to the meandering plot, the over-reliance on frankly ridiculous CGI, and the general lack of strong and convincing characterisation. Sprinkle in the fact that we've seen most of these tricks played to greater effect in the past, and it all feels like a rather over-saturated, over-familiar, and underwhelming experience.
Any fans of horror from the Far East will already know that strong female leads are one of the most distinctive and pleasing aspects of the genre, and leading lady Intira Jaroenpura (a Thai actress who has managed to carve a relatively consistent set of roles for herself over the years, including the respected 1999 horror, Nang-Nak) is a certainly a distinctive and attractive screen presence in her role as a hard-working reporter who investigates an apparent theme between some murders which have taken place over a wide time span. Yet amongst the shifting parameters of The House's plot, she struggles to produce a consistent and convincing performance. The heavy handed CGI and depictions of sudden gory horror leave her barely knowing how to react, with her temporary inertia inevitably leading to an enormous scream on each such occasion, yet the plot still drives her to place herself into more and more peril, seemingly with little trauma or memory of the previous shock. Other performances are challenging too, with the criminals in particular showcasing a little too much psychotic grinning to deliver the genuine menace we require for the film to truly disturb.
If you’re in possession of a sympathetic affection for Thai horror, and if you’re prepared to enjoy the disconnected sections of visceral horror and shock without a concern for overall cohesion, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t find plenty to enjoy here. If it’s the subtle, inexorable, and almost inexplicable creep of dread and fear so expertly crafted in the cream of Far East horror that turns you on, you’ll be frustrated by Arayangkoon’s 2007 shocker, and will find more effective examples elsewhere in Thai filmmaking and beyond.
Compared to some of MVM's other output, which can be low-grade fodder to say the least, The House ranks fairly high up the list. The film is released on DVD, and is encoded for European 'region 2' audiences. Before analysing the transfer itself, it's worth mentioning that I do take exception to the cover art and wording. There's nothing offensive about the cover per se; it's certainly not overtly distasteful or inappropriately explicit, but closer examination reveals what appears to be MVM attempting to conceal the origins of the movie. Take the cover image; the shot of a shocked female face in close-up appears to be that of a model of Western heritage, rather than the attractive female lead of the film, Intira Jaroenpura. One could suggest this is irrelevant and that the cover is merely supposed to be representative of the film itself, but how many DVD covers contain images of actors which aren't even in the film?
Reading the synopsis on the reverse of the box arouses further suspicion. There's no mention of the film originating from Thailand, nor that the director is Thai, and the wording used is distinctly American, using terms such as 'rookie reporter'. Perhaps MVM feel that the fact the film is from Thailand will be a big turn off to fans, but if they want to market the film effectively, they should surely be appealing to fans of Far East cinema. The cover makes the film appear to be a generic American haunted house horror flick, and this certainly sells the content short.
Setting such irritations aside, the transfer isn't quite true either, although it's not wretched by any means. The first segment of the film is grainy by design, and the scenes immediately afterwards show a distinct improvement, although the resolution is a little chunky and lends the feel of a 'made for TV' movie to some degree. Unfortunately, the level of grain increases in swells at times as the film continues, and the image quality sometimes suffers as a result. In terms of colour, the film has something of a muted feel, though this is quite appropriate for the atmospherics of the picture. The area where the film suffers the most is during the dark sequences, where it becomes genuinely difficult to pick out necessary detail with any accuracy, and surrounding dark shades are victim to antialiasing, which can substantially harm any conviction with which the film is delivered.
On the plus side, the fact that the film is presented in the native 2.35:1 aspect ratio is welcomed, and the image itself, despite its shortcomings, is free from damage.
English subtitles are provided, and are decent enough, proving legible and clear throughout, without becoming obtrusive. I don't believe it is possible to disable the subtitles.
There's no surround option here, but aside from that, the audio presentation fares considerably better than the visuals. The Thai 2.0 soundtrack is clear enough with a substantial level of depth for what can be quite a sinister musical accompaniment. The stereo soundstage is well used in the film, particularly during the well orchestrated horror scenes.
Not much to see here I'm afraid, apart from a Trailer which is visually superior to the full feature presented on the disc.
An inconsistent transfer provides symmetry for an inconsistent directorial delivery, and with this in mind, The House is appropriate for the more devoted of Thai horror fans only, whose sympathetic perspective may grant enough license for enjoyment. Arayangkoon’s film is not a disaster by any means, and there are some satisfying shocks, but the director needs a sharper and more diligent hand to increase the quality for his next outing.
MVM deliver Monthon Arayangkoon's 2007 chiller to the UK on DVD, and whilst there are effective chills and some industrious gore, the jumble of ideas and over-reliance on CGI means the final result doesn't fulfil this film's potential. MVM's cover marketing and transfer don't fully further the cause, but there's still enough quality here for hardcore Far East horror fans to find some fulfilment.