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Blue Hour , The
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by Jay Seaver

"Beautifully, if sedately, blue."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: When making a film meant to be eerie and still, greatness is almost the baseline requirement for the cinematography. Fortunately, Thailand seems to be unusually well-stocked with both great shooters and things for them to point a camera at, so "The Blue Hour" is off to a good start, and builds into something unnerving as well.

It begins by showing Tam (Atthaphan Poonsawas), a middle-class teenager, making his way to a disused public pool for a rendezvous with Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang),a slightly older, more confident guy he met online. It's an ideal meeting place for these sorts of assignations - free as opposed to a hotel, away from parents, empty because of rumors of past drownings and subsequent hauntings. But while Phum seems unlikely to add to Tam's collection of mostly-discreet bruises, he may be dangerous in other ways.

Not that Tam is entirely a sweet kid who is bullied for being gay. That's the bulk of the character, sure, but it's rare for anybody to be that entirely passive, and it's not long before his complaints about being unfairly blamed for everything have caveats that, yeah, he did steal that Buddha statuette. Atthaphan Poonsawas handles adding that sort of nuance to Tam nicely; the core of the character is still an easy guy to empathize with, but he's also very much a teenager that is going to find trouble and may in fact be looking for it, if not quite to the level he eventually finds.

Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang, meanwhile, does well to make Phum that trouble, and even if he sets alarms off, he also initially gives the sense that Phum might be just what Tam needs right then. There's a sense of mystery to Phum, although not enough to immediately make the audience presume there's something hugely unusual to him. Indeed, Wiwattanawarang often plays Phum as a little desperate himself and out of sorts when things start getting weird, making for an interestingly complex relationship rather than one that just seems exploitative.

They're an interesting pair, although it's sometimes just as interesting to watch Tam interacting with his mother (Djuangjai Hirunsri) and brother (Panutchai Kittisatima), with Hirunsri looking pained as the mother who can't comprehend her son's sexuality and Kittisatima doing a nice little riff on a nasty piece of work who sees a wedge he can use with his parents. Around that, writer/director Anucha Boonyawatana builds a story that seems to pull in elements from several different genres - ghosts, crime, and coming of age - and creates a mixture as murky as the rainwater-filled pool that recurs throughout the movie. Boonyawatana does a very slow build, but there's a feeling of inevitability as things get into darker territory, as every slight Tam has ever felt comes to the surface and he feels more emboldened, despite also feeling terrified.

And, as mentioned, this looks and sounds incredible. Boonyawatana and cinematographers Chaiyapreuk Chalermpornpanit & Kamolpan Ngiwtong find a lot of interesting compositions, whether dividing the widescreen image into horizontal bands or framing things such that Phum is behind a building support and Tam seems to be talking into air. They're often in abandoned, garbage-strewn areas - marking them as rejects - and for much of the movie, there will be relatively little music on the soundtrack to emphasize the often-jarring sound design, where loud bangs can indicate danger just around the corner even in one's own bedroom.

It's not a particularly tight movie, and like a lot of high-end Thai pictures, it can be kind of slow (there seems to be very little ground in the Thai film that makes it overseas between highly-energetic genre work and deliberate art-house material). "The Blue Hour" grabs eyeballs, though, and its characters are interesting enough to get the audience through to the end.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29114&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/29/15 00:16:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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