Sunday, 9 September 2018

Phobia 2 reviewed

The first Phobia movie was a fun anthology movie that followed the usual pattern - some stories light and silly, some altogether more serious, the overall feel a bit of a mixed bag. My opinion of it is here. I recently had the pleasure of viewing the second in the series, and found it equally enjoyable - though a lot bleaker, in some parts.

Phobia 2 (original title Ha Phraeng) consists of five short stories. 'Novice' begins with a young man having head head shaved as part of his initiation for a Buddhist monastery. Pey is not there voluntarily - his mother is trying to conceal him among the saffron-clad monks because he has committed a long series of crimes, the last ending in a death. But despite being urged to stay and repent, Pey acts like an arsehole. When he is supposed to be fasting he sets out to steal food offerings left for hungry ghosts.

This is a nicely-made, rather grim segment that revolves around the idea of karma. The hungry ghosts of Thai legend are not quaint, hovery spooks but towering, roaring monsters eager to destroy the living. The finale is suitably karmic.

'Ward' sees another young man in difficulties, but this time we see that Arhit is more foolish than downright bad. He crashes his bike, injuring his legs, and is put in a hospital ward. While Arhit wants a shared room he wends up next to an old man on life support. The man, he is told, will soon die. Then the man's followers turn up and begin to say strange, ritual prayers. It seems the old man is a cult leader.

During the night strange things happen as Arhit becomes convinced the old man is more lively than the nurses claim. Come morning, things have changed for them both. This one is a nice study in claustophobic terror as Arhit's injured legs make it impossible for him to flee and increasingly weird situation.

'Backpackers' sees two Japanese youngsters hitching in Thailand. They get a lift from older trucker and his young sidekick, communicating in broken English. Then there are a series of frantic noises in the back of the truck, and the driver pulls off the road. It emerges  that the truck is full of smuggled people, and that they have all died. This, it seems, is because the young trafficker forced them all to swallow condoms filled with drugs. Then one of the bodies gets up...

Yes, this is a zombie story, and as such it is quite knowing. We don't need half-baked rationalisations as to why the undead have risen, we just need action sequences and suspense, and that's what we get. The Thai guy and the Japanese girl end up trapped in the crashed truck. The girl encounters a small boy who may be a zombie but will not let the man shoot him. The outbreak cannot be contained.

Things remain pretty grim with 'Salvage'. Mrs Nuch is a second-hand car dealer with no scruples about selling vehicles that have been written off in accidents and rebuilt - sloppily - by her grubby cohorts. Nuch also has a small child who enjoys playing with a radio-controlled toy in the sales lot. Cue a frantic night--time search for the poor lad as his mother encounters the ghosts of those who have died. The ghosts, as always in this series, a very substantial and imaginatively realised. The ending is arguably the bleakest of all.

After so many grim tales it's not surprising that the last segment, entitled 'In the End', is a horror-comedy. It concerns the problematic completion of a Thai horror movie (clearly a Ring ripoff) in which the actress playing the long-haired ghost falls ill. When the actress returns, still fully made up as a corpse, suspicion arises that she did in fact die, Panic on set, a series of wildly improbable coincidences, and a darkly comic conclusion suggest everyone had a fun time making this. There's an extensive discussion about how hard it is to come up with a truly original twist ending, Then they contrive the silliest - but neatest - one possible.

Overall, Phobia 2 is an entertaining series of horror vignettes that don't push the boundaries, but do showcase the extensive talents of the Thai film industry. The acting, direction, effects, and general calibre of the stories are at least as good as those of the standard US fare. If you can manage subtitles the Phobia movies may be worth your time. Don't expect anything wildly original, 'just' competent entertainment.

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