Effectively (intentionally?) playing the scares for laughs and eschewing the oversaturated confectionary palette of his two previous films—Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog—Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng's third feature The Unseeable maintains a menacing enough atmosphere, primarily through a fantastic haunted country house and its surrounding compound, the shift to a shadowy grey-green palette, and a cascading "wait there's more!" finale. It seems that every available ghost story trope has been enfolded into the script, written this time not by Sasanatieng himself but by Kongkait Komesiri (Art of the Devil 2).
What redeems what you see coming a mile away in The Unseeable (a title which is only partially apt) is its stylistic inflection through regional Thai folklore. In this, it is a commendable example of what Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien proposed in his 2002 Rouge seminar, which I've quoted before—in conjunction with (in fact) another Thai horror film The Ghost of Mae Nak—but, it bears repeating since Thai filmmakers seem to be paying skillful attention. The crucial element of the success of a horror genre piece like The Unseeable "lies in the use of local elements. The films," Hsiao-hsien argues, "are firmly rooted in local culture." This is confirmed in The Unseeable's attributed inspiration of famed Thai art master, Hem Vejakorn, whose published drawings capture the diversity of Thai culture. The film's lighting design especially was based on Master Hem's style, faithfully bridging canvas and film.
The Twitch team has been all over this one since inception. Todd Brown offered a series of teasing glimpses via a first and second trailer, production stills and posters in early October 2006. Stefan followed through with his own review in February 2007 and Todd announced the DVD release in April 2007.
My favorite character in The Unseeable is the haunted house, which reflects a blend between the popularity of the French Art Nouveau (i.e., the upper class) with the more traditional rural stilt houses of the countryside (i.e., the peasant class); a collision of architectural styles that exemplified the late 1920s-early '30s. The house, in worn disrepair surrounded by overgrown gardens, was found in Pakchong, Nakornratchasima and provides the atmospheric mise en scène for The Unseeable's unsettling weave of class conflict between Nualjan (Siraphan Wattanajinda)—a young pregnant girl from the country searching for her missing husband—and Ranjuan (Supornthip Choungrangsee), the exotically beautiful madam of the compound whose erotic moans at night underscore her mysterious allure. Tassawan Seneewongse does a camp turn as the Thai version of Rebecca's tortured Mrs. Danvers, up to her neck in ghostly goings-on, and Visa Konska as the talkative and superstitious boarder Choy chews up not only the scenery. And I may be mistaken but I believe that's Citizen Dog's Grandma Gekko clinging this time not to the overhead light but to the windowsill. Will someone please give her back her baby?
Final analysis? Not great, but a fun reminder of the greatness to come (hopefully) from the sensuous imagination of Wisit Sasanatieng.
Cross-published on Twitch.