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Krasue: Inhuman Kiss
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by Jay Seaver

"As crazy as it looks - and yet also sincere."
5 stars

They say not to judge a book by it's cover, but take a second to look at the "cover" of "Krasue: Inhuman Kiss" - whether it's a poster, the slipcase for a DVD or Blu-ray, or the header image on a streaming service - and if that floating-head image doesn't get your attention, well, I'm not sure how. The point is, that image makes one heck of a promise, and amazingly enough, it delivers more. It is a period coming-of-age romantic horror ride the likes of which doesn't come around too often.

When they were kids, Jerd, Ting, Noi, and Sai went out in the woods playing hide and seek near a house said to hold a dead woman's spirit, with Sai reassuring Noi but coming upon something strange herself. Years later, they're teenagers, with Ting (Darina Boonchu) a young mother, Sai (Phantira Pipityakorn) assisting at the local health center despite the doctors having been called to the fighting in Bangkok, and Jerd (Sapol Assawamunkong) nursing a crush on her. He's a catch - handsome and from a rich family - but Sai still pines for Noi (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang), whose family moved to Bangkok some years ago, but has returned just ahead of Tat (Surasak Wongthai), who describes himself as a krasue hunter. Krasue are said to be monster women whose heads detach from their body and spits into wells, with a woman who drinks from the same well becoming one herself and a man who does feeling incredible until the krasue eats his guts. But that doesn't sound like Sai at all.

Does that seem like giving a little too much away? It's not - Sai is obviously going to be at the center of things from the opening flashback - but even if it was, there is a lot to come. Director Sitisiri Mongkolsiri and screenwriter Chookiat Sakveerakul have moments that could serve as climaxes at roughly every quarter-mark, expanding and twisting the story in ways that feel natural while also meaning that the actual finale is full of things that are completely insane. It's a neat trick that they get there fairly, and are able to keep things moving at the right sort of pace that they can take a moment to regroup without things going completely back to normal, with some things happening mostly off-screen but the ways that it does appear getting things across.

It works in large part because so much of the movie is emotionally grounded in things the audience understands even if, as an outsider, the setting is not immediately recognizable as the mid-1940s because where the filmmakers can, they seem to skew modern in things like wardrobe, hairstyles, and dialogue (at least, to the extent I can tell from the English subtitles on a Blu-ray produced for the Hong Kong market). There's something very natural about how these young people play off each other, rather than overheated, with the filmmakers seldom holding anything back or making them larger-than-life for melodramatic purposes. Noi is probably not going to find a way out of the situation with science, but it never seems futile or unreasonable (and the fact that it's presented like a teenager's science experiment helps). The filmmakers are smart about how the idea of a teenager as more than a kid but less than an adult wasn't really an accepted thing until after this movie's setting even if they were always like that, leading to the characters fumbling about earnestly and the couple years Ting has on her school-age friends being appropriately life-changing

Not that this movie is actually subtle - the young cast is good, but their performance is seldom particularly layered, with Surasak Wongthai going even bigger as Tat. The film isn't as heavily reliant on jump scares as Thai horror can be, but composer Chatchai Pongprapaphan isn't shy about putting a big crash in the score when they come or pushing the tension hard at other points There's a nice pastoral look to it, not taking the path of a suffocating jungle but understanding how secrets can quickly be buried in this place, with a lot of room for mystery to be uncovered even as the area is modernizing. And while the visual effects are not quite so polished as they might be if this movie came from the United States or China, they use what they've got to good advantage: Make-up effects feel like they could come from either fairy tales or monster movies, elemental if not entirely real-looking, and the CGI used to illustrate the krasue is horrific, ethereal, and a little silly all at once, enough to let a viewer feel the characters' disbelief at the situations they find themselves in.

It makes "Krasue: Inhuman Kiss" (currently a Netflix exclusive with the first word removed from the title in most of the world) an exceptionally odd movie, a crazy bit of folkloric horror that became Thailand's Oscar submission, though not a nominee. That it somehow manages to be a jaw-dropping genre film and a smartly observed coming-of-age story is a minor miracle - as out-there as advertised but honest enough to make a viewer believe in its madness.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=33962&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/04/21 12:03:21
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