Saturday, July 05, 2008

Honourable mentions: The Unseeable


This Thai film, from 2006, was directed by Wisit Sasanatieng and I heard about it through Bill at Uranium Café. Now what tempted me was the idea of hungry vampiric ghosts. Of course, vampiric ghosts are not unheard of in the genre, we only have to look to the sublime Castle of Blood. In this case I found something more akin to the traditional Thai creature the Krassy.

As this is an Honourable Mention, you can tell that this was not a major aspect of the film – the film is brimming with ghosts and the vampiric one is a small, but in some ways significant, part of the tale. Perhaps, however, it is better to start at the beginning.

Siraphan Wattanajinda as NauljanWe start with a track and a woman, Nauljan (Siraphan Wattanajinda) walking along it. Her breathing is heavy and she seems to struggle with her suitcase. Following the opening we see a rickshaw driver stop at a house. Nauljan gets out and asks him to wait a minute. She walks into the compound and, whilst gazing at the house, she sees a figure at a window. She jumps backwards and bumps into Choy. Choy offers to take her to the caretaker, Miss Somjit (Tassawan Seneewongse).

Suporntip Chuangrangsri as Madame RanjuanNauljan starts to tell her life story to the stern Miss Somjit, a woman never seen without her lamp. She is a country girl whose husband has vanished and she has headed to the city to find him. Miss Somjit is not open to allowing every waif and stray to stay – especially as Nauljan is pregnant and her giving birth there might prove dishonourable to the household. However, it is getting dark and she eventually allows her to stay on the proviso that she doesn’t go near the main house – belonging to Madame Ranjuan (Suporntip Chuangrangsri) – and she looks for somewhere else.

That night Nauljan is washing but the shadows seem to move. She returns to her room, past a shrine but she hears the sound of digging and sees the silhouette of a man, she also sees an old woman spooking around and entering an old shack. In the morning she is remembering her husband and how he went away for a few days (at the beginning of her pregnancy) but never returned. Whenever she thinks of her husband we never see his face. She speaks to Choy about what she has seen and Choy tells her that the old woman is Grandma Erb (we see Erb with a doll at this point) who only leaves her shack at night. Choy has seen the digging man – he gives her the creeps.

pale hand in the shrineChoy also tells her that she has seen a pale hand grabbing offerings from the garden shrine. Ghosts, she says, not only haunt the house and grounds. There is a bend in the road with a tree and a woman with long hair can be seen swinging below a branch – we see the woman on a swing – but she is the spirit of a woman who hanged herself.

a statue to a dead loveNauljan explores and gets close to the main house, spotted by Ranjuan, and then is found by Miss Somjit. The caretaker takes her to a statue – in memory of Ranjuan’s deceased husband – and then tells her that ghosts are real and they are all around. The compound has seen the birth and death of many generations. That night Nauljan sees a child playing and, as the girl runs shouting ‘play with me’, Nauljan ends up at a door (to the antique room, a place with a mysterious chest) and is caught by Miss Somjit.

the hand grabs the umbilical's urnNualjan is going to leave, Choy tries to stop her when the woman goes into labour – Choy acts as midwife. The child is born healthy and Choy packs the umbilical cord into an urn. When asked why, she says that the old people warn of gut eating vampires. The umbilical must be buried in an urn to prevent it being consumed. Choy takes the urn into the garden but seems scared by the sound of digging and puts the urn in the undergrowth – the pale hand from the shrine takes it.

bloody mouth printsLater, having suggested to Nualjan that Madame Ranjuan has a lover locked away in the house, the friend runs to the new mother to show her the diapers that have been on the washing line. Each one has a bloody mouth print on it and Choy says that the vampires wipe their bloody mouths after feeding and love to feast on babies. Choy offers the suspicion that Grandma Erb is the vampire; after all she only comes out at night.

the mysterious chestWithout giving too much away there is a whole plethora of ghostly goings on here. The child reappears several times. The digging man seems to be the Madame’s lover but we also see the pale hand creep from under her bed to steal her robe when she is with him. We see shadows move and figures appear all over the show. The mysterious chest seems to shake, rattle and roll all of its own accord. To a degree there is a little too much, but the film does explain the stories of all the main ghosts eventually.

some of the ghosts appearThe large numbers of ghosts seem to be partly there to hide the main story and the twist therein – to be honest you’ll get the twist but by the time you do it won’t matter. By then the magnificent atmosphere that the film draws around you will have hold of you. This is one of the most atmospheric films I have seen produced recently, the pacing is slow, almost languid, but that allows the atmosphere to build. Eventually we see Nualjan surrounded by a host of spirits.

vampire eating the umbilicalWe do get to see what happened to the umbilical and it was indeed consumed by a vampiric ghost. Whether the vampire gets the baby or not… well I'm not going to say. This is a ghost story in the finest tradition but has a level of strangeness about it that only serves to build upon the already thick atmosphere. With strong direction and good performances Unseeable shows again that, currently, Asian cinema is a force to be reckoned with in horror.

The imdb page is here.


Bill said...

I never was able to successfully download this from the net as I had had to reformat my PC and lost some data, including the files for this, but will try again.

I am in China yet have a hard time finding some of the cool Asian films you find. Ironic isn't it. The DVD stores emphasis Hollywood movies. Of course there are tons of Asian flicks, but usually of a lower quality and not subtitled. I finally had to download Enter the Dragon after going through about 6 DVDs of non English versions. A hassle, since it was the only Bruce Less film NOT filmed in Chinese (Cantonese, not Mandarin).

I will try to get this movie again

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Bill, this is worth tracking down if you can.