by Jay Seaver
SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Of all the hyphenated terms we use to stick films into genres rather than just saying whether it's a good movie or a bad movie, or somewhere in-between, there's probably not one that seems to be more absurd on the face of it than "horror-comedy". After all, the goal of a horror movie is to unsettle the audience. A little nervous laughter is one thing, but if you're seriously trying to creep the audience out, comedy tends to be comic relief, and relief is what tales of horror don't need. So while "Buppah Rahtree" manages to provide more than a few laughs and scares, I'm not sure that it can ultimately be called a horror movie, even when you stick a hyphen-comedy in there.The story is a simple enough one. Wealthy college student Akekapol Dumrongsub (Kris Srepoomseth) woos Buppah Rahtree (Chermarn Boonyasak), who is attractive but reserved. After consummating their relationship, we see that "Ake" seduced her on a bet with his other privileged friends. He changes his phone number and avoids her, even though he finds he misses her. When they meet again, though, it's because she's pregnant. The ensuing abortion goes badly, and she bleeds out a few nights later. It's a month before the landlady notices that Buppah hasn't paid her rent and she discovers the body when she comes to collect. When the police try to remove it, though, it does things a dead body ought not do, like sit up, and they run away in fear.
"One funny horror movie."
When you get right down to it, the heroine of Buppah Rahtree isn't its title character, who is kind of aloof even before she dies and returns as a ghost. It's her landlady, who simply wants the corpse out of her apartment building so that she can rent it out and so that her other tenants will stop moving out because of the angry ghost. Sure, a ghost who mainly just wants to be left alone isn't the worst sort of spirit to have hanging around, but just being dead doesn't get you out of paying rent. Her husband is pretty much useless, not doing anything but praying, as if that's going to accomplish anything. The succession of mystics and exorcists she sends in wind up turning tail themselves. this building is her life and livelihood, and she's losing everything because a tenant won't even leave when she dies.
Ake returns in the movie's second half, not aware that his girlfriend is actually a ghost who keeps her body stowed in the closet, but for the middle part of the movie, we mostly follow the other residents of the building and the neighborhood. There's a diner across the street where people gather and gossip with the gregarious owners, a pair of transvestite hairdressers, hip-hop neighbors, a self-styled guru who really wants no part of the body in the room, and the sexy, forward delivery girl for a nearby restaurant who is obviously going to put a crimp in Ake's and Buppah's relationship (ghosts are, understandably, reluctant to grant access to the most obviously damaged part of their anatomy). Many horror movies have large casts because you need people to kill off, but this feels more like a true ensemble piece as they nervously discuss who's moving out now, or look to each other for help when Ake asks for his supper to be sent up to #609, the haunted room.
One can, perhaps, argue whether or not Buppah Rahtree should necessarily be called a horror movie, just because it deals with ghosts. Like Shutter, another Thai horror movie playing the festival, it relies heavily on jump moments and not on really conceptual horror. There's a ghost running around, but the implication seems to be that all that's really needed is someone brave enough to walk into the room, grab the body, and bring it to the crematorium. Buppah really doesn't seem to have it in for anyone, even Ake, until she's provoked. There's not really a feeling of inescapable dread here as much as there's some gore and some moments where Buppah's appearance (and the loud pounding on the soundtrack) makes the audience jump after a few minutes of squirming. I'm no horror snob, so I figure if something legitimately makes the audience yell out, applaud, or laugh nervously, that's fair; it's an honest reaction. The jaded horror fan who has seen all the tricks before and developed a tolerance may be less impressed, although he or she may enjoy the movie as a straight-on comedy.
And it is funny. Even as the occasional unsafe use of saws and a ghost popping up and assaulting people who enter her room jolts the audience, there are legitimate laughs to be had from the way the neighborhood reacts. Credit writer/director Yuthlert Sippapak for making other people's fear both legitimate and funny without making his characters look like fools, for the most part - the Catholic priests who show up in the most explicit reference to The Exorcist are a little over the top, and not in the funny, in-character way that the first mystic (who knows himself to be a fraud) is when he realizes his staff is on the other side of the room, on the bed, next to the corpse.Laughs and frights are a difficult mix; "Buppah Rahtree" is notable for how it pulls both off consistently, when most movies will either start as one and become the other, pay lip service to half of the equation, or flat-out fail.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10646&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/12/05 22:29:33