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Alone (2007)
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by Jay Seaver

"Hits all the expected notes, and a few surprising ones."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: When I saw the original Thai version of "Shutter" at Fantasia a few years back, I told friends that the only way it seemed Thai horror could get less subtle would be to have the ushers actually throwing cats at the audience. That turns out to be an unfair stereotype, but the makers of that movie are back and looking to get the audience to jump again. They manage it, too, throwing in a story that's actually fairly clever besides.

When we first meet elegant Pim (Masha Wattanapanich) and scruffy Wee (Vittaya Wasukraipaisan), they are living in Soeul, South Korea, and seem happy enough - they have friends, a dog, and live comfortably. Bad news comes from their native Thailand when they find out that Pim's mother (Ratchanoo Bunchootwong) has just had a stroke. They fly back to be at her side, but returning home dredges up a lot of bad memories for Pim. She was born a conjoined twin, and her sister Ploy did not survive the separation that she insisted upon. Now, Ploy appears to be appearing in every mirror and any other place she can. Wee and his psychiatrist friend Donai try to convince Pim that it's all in her head... but is it?

Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom made a pretty decent horror movie in Shutter, and though the story here is different, they spend much of the movie keeping to the same template: Introduce the situation, punctuate the film with lots of flashes of a dead girl accompanied by loud crashes in the score, and flesh out the characters' backstory in flashback, including how the twins' first meetings with Wee when they were hospitalized teenagers (Wee for complications from diabetes) set in motion both Pim's desire to separate and Ploy's increasingly hostile nature. (The latter is nice; a haunting makes more sense if the ghost was ornery even before death) The first half of Alone is an unapologetic jump movie, but Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom are really, really good at making the audience jump.

There is more going on, though. In the moments when they're not making us jump, they quietly examine what the life of and relationship between Pim and Ploy was like. Pim's first visit to her old room is eerie even when Ploy isn't jumping out of the shadows: The closet full of matched pairs of outfits and the dressing table with the two mirrors side-by-side silently tell us of a life that is fundamentally different from the average person's, and what Pim has lost. How close Pim and Ploy must have been is eerily underscored in a flashback scene where Pim swallows her balky sister's medicine for her - that's just unnerving, but gives us a picture of what the two girls are like. Pisanthanakun and Wongpoom also use these scenes to sneakily drop clues for later on. Looking back at it, I have to tip my cap - even as I was admiring the detail with which they built Pim's and Ploy's lives, I still didn't quite grasp what some of those details meant until later.

I've probably said too much about the story as it is, but it's impressive work. The finale is also impressive, as it is not what I expected from the start but still grandiose and exciting. The story takes a hard twist but winds up working beautifully. I have to admit, there are some details that I wonder about, but I like most of it quite a bit.

The cast is nice, although not quite great. Masha Wattanapanich is very good at being sad and frightened when she doesn't know what's going on, but the character's hysterics toward the end aren't quite as good as what she'd done earlier in the movie. Vittaya Wasukraipaisan is affable enough as Wee, and handles the transition from being a supporting character to one with a more pivotal role fairly well.

The crowd cringed a little during the Q&A when the director said that, yes, they were negotiating with an American studio about a remake, even after all involved were rather candid about not much liking the American "Shutter". "Alone" does supposedly have a North American DVD release scheduled, and it's worth a look.

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originally posted: 07/22/08 03:30:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/22/08 Catalina Khalaj Pretty intricate story, sometimes overwhelming from the point of view of the details. 4 stars
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