Phobia 2 (Ha phraeng) (Directors: Banjong Pisanthanakun, Paween Purikitpanya, Songyos Sugmakanan, Parkpoom Wongpoom ): From Thailand comes this omnibus of 5 short horror tales. I never saw the original Phobia (or 4bia as it was cleverly titled in some places), but the idea of a collection of shorter horror stories appeals to me, mostly because I’m a big fraidy-cat and knowing that we’ll be moving on to a new story every 20 minutes or so makes me less afraid.
That being said, it’s a truism that most anthology films are wildly uneven. So part of the overall surprise of Phobia 2 is not only that it’s fresh and innovative, but that each segment is equally fresh and innovative, with very high production values throughout. As a latecomer to the Thai horror scene, I was very pleasantly surprised, but I needn’t have been. The filmmakers are some of the same people who are behind some very polished and popular horror films (Alone, Shutter, and of course, Phobia). Here is a brief summary of each story:
- Novice: a young man is packed off to a rural monastery after a teenaged prank goes horribly wrong. In the forest, he comes upon a shrine where people have made offerings to the “hungry ghost.” Soon he’ll be pursued by the ghost leading him to a true sense of remorse and a terrible tranformation.
- Ward: confined to a hospital bed after a motorcycle accident, Arthit is disturbed to discover that the old man covered in tattoos in the next bed is on life support and the leader of a strange cult. In the morning, his followers will make the decision to pull the plug. Arthit just has to spend a very creepy night next to him.
- Backpackers: Two Japanese tourists are picked up hitchhiking by an old truck driver and his young partner. They soon realize the truck is carrying a terrifying cargo.
- Salvage: Mrs. Nuch runs a used car dealership, but doesn’t tell her customers that all the cars have been rebuilt after being involved in deadly accidents. When her young son goes missing after playing in the lot one night, it seems that she will be forced to confront the tragedies that have fuelled her success.
- In The End: It’s a brilliant decision to end with this very funny segment, a parody of the Thai horror filmmaking business. Filming a sequel to Alone, the film crew are unsettled when the actress playing a heavily made-up ghost become sick and has to go to hospital. When she returns unexpectedly, they don’t know if she’s human or a ghost, especially when the hospital calls to inform them that she has died.
An interesting insight is that in three of the segments, the concept of karma is central to the narrative. These hauntings are never without a reason, and this gives the horror a fatalistic sense of inevitability that is quite effective. I was also quite impressed with the camera work in each segment; in particular, the beginning of Ward where the camera is locked to the wheels of a hospital gurney while the soundtrack features the revving engine of a motorcycle.
I would say that Phobia 2 is a great calling card for these directors, and for Thai horror cinema in general. It’s certainly been successful in getting this horrorphobe to seek out the filmmakers’ other films.