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Phobia 2
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by Jay Seaver

"Five for frightening."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The first "Phobia" (called "4bia" in festival programs) was a sort of sampler, offering up four short horror stories from four different directors, also tending toward different types of horror. The follow-up anthology brings the number of stories and directors up to five, and while the variety isn't quite what it was in the previous one, this group of Thai filmmakers still finds ways to make the audience jump.

In the first short, "Novice", Paween Purijitpanya gives us Pey, a surly teenager who has just been deposited in a remote Buddhist temple by his mother after a tragic accident. It's the start of the ritual of the hungry ghosts, and woe befalls the poor kid who disturbs the food left out for the spirits. Purijitpanya takes a basic horror story and executes it near-perfectly. The effects guys come up with a good monster, and the filmmakers hold it back enough to make its appearances jump-worthy while still cranking up the tension between. It builds to the ending it must have, but a good one.

In one of the more direct connections between shorts, Visute Poolvoralaks's "Ward" focuses on the kid Pey was with, Tee Arthit, who winds up in the hospital with casts on both his legs. Supposedly, his hospital room is effectively private, with an empty bed to one side and a brain-dead patient on the other - but the brain-dead patient has visitors, and when they leave, seems much more active than he should be. "Ward" is a pretty straightforward series of jump moments, set up and knocked down.

Up third is Songyos Sugmakanan's "Backpackers", in which a young Japanese couple hitchhiking across Thailand is picked up by a pair of long-haul truckers, one middle-aged and one young. Not speaking each other's language, they don't initially realize that the truckers have plans for them, at least until there's a banging from the bay, and things go from bad, to worse, to worse, to whatever comes after that. It's a giddily unpredictable segment, where Sugmakanan and co-writer Sopana Chaowwiwatkul take advantage of the open-endedness of the anthology format to send the plot in unexpected directions and remove unexpected characters. More than any other, it's got the ability to surprise and the tense feeling of not knowing what comes next.

As in the first, the co-directors of Shutter and Alone turn in separate pieces; Parkpoom Wongpoom comes up with "Salvage", with a Bangkok used car dealer, Mrs. Nuch, being less than honest about the history of the vehicles on her lot, most of which were repaired after fatal accidents, something that will literally come back to haunt her when her son Poey gets lost in the lot. It's a solid concept, with some nifty bits in it, but it's hard to cheer for either Mrs. Nuch's comeuppance or survival. As with all the segments, though, it's a beautifully shot piece; Wongpoom and company to an excellent job of transforming an ordinary location into something frightening.

And speaking of Alone, director Banjong Pisanthanakun once again takes aim at his own creation, with "In the End" taking place on the set of Alone 2, as a group of young filmmakers (played by the same cast he used in his 4bia's "In the Middle") wisecrack and bicker their way through the last day of shooting, where they have to deal with an ailing actress who comes back to finish the movie after dying at the hospital. It's a Pisanthanakun and co-writer Mez Tharatorn actually come up with a diabolically clever script, finding belly laughs while sending up every ghost story cliche while still giving themselves room to actually scare the audience should they choose to. The reunited ensemble functions like a well-oiled comedy machine, which is only boosted by Marsha Wattanapanich, the star of Alone who contributes a deliciously self-deprecating turn as an actress less than taken with the entire situation.

"In the End" serves as a perfect comedy chaser for the four horror shorts that precede it, which themselves range from "pretty good" to "excellent". It's rare that an anthology film can be so solid from top to bottom (and unobtrusively but amusingly link the segments together); that this group of filmmakers has done it twice in relatively rapid succession is an almost unheard-of success.

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originally posted: 07/10/10 16:55:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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