It has been an incredibly slow period for both new films and my desire to explore the old. So when I saw friend of the blog Neko review this one a few days ago, and it was rather easy to get hold of, I just thought “what they hey”, and decided to see what the fuss was about. Thai Ghost films are usually worth a look, even though they have to rely on suspense rather than outright gore (which actually I prefer), but this one has a catch – it happens to be a ghost story with a rather moralistic and frankly controversial message. But more on that later.
“The Unborn Child” weaves a few loosely connected stories together. The main one is about a Photographer call Tri (Somchai Kemglad), his teacher wife Phim (Pitchanart Sakakorn) and their young child Yaimai (Chinaradi Anupongpichart). A happy little family unit on the outside, but Yaimai starts to become obsessed with an imaginary friend, who she insists is her little brother. This escalates to the point where she gets herself in more and more dangerous situations, driving her parents to frustration and despair. Not only that, but Tri starts seeing strange events in his life, including disturbing images caught on film and video. The second tale is about two young school kids (who happen to be taught by Phim) who find themselves with child. The boy is initially unsympathetic, and the girl has to visit a backstreet Abortionist, which has all kinds of impacts on her health. We also have a few brief interludes with a young actress, who also finds herself pregnant, and goes down the same path. Finally we have the story of the Abortionist herself – a wonderful chain smoking, not-exactly-hygiene-interested middle aged woman, who delivers the products of her trade to a temple, where the idea is the evidence will get burned with more natural corpses. Problem is, the ovens don’t seem to be working, and the dead foetuses just keep piling up! Slowly the stories begin to intertwine (sort of), resulting in a couple of chilling finales!
Right, let us get the Elephant in the room dealt with first – this film is not without a bit of controversy. At its heart, it is weaving a Ghost story over the top of a real world story. A few years ago, over 2000 illegally aborted foetuses were discovered in a Thai Temple, waiting to be incinerated by the broken ovens. So, it could be considered somewhat bad taste to make something that is a merely silly entertainment out of something that is rather shocking. I am going to forgive the film this offence though, as it does attempt to treat the story with respect, certainly in the closing moments. However, it loses those brownie points by being so one sided and frankly pedagogical about abortion as to be annoying and frustrating and frankly takes away from any enjoyment. Abortion is illegal in Thailand (apart from certain cases, like rape victims). The film goes to great lengths to punish those involved in abortions, and constantly tells us how wrong it is, etc etc. Now I know this is an emotive subject, and not one I am going to share my opinion on – however, if you are going to have such a subject in a film you have to make some kind of debate, even if it is nothing more than having a straw man. Here I am afraid, we get little more than a treatise on pre and extra marital sex, that does nothing to discuss non-terminal options like contraception or even abstention.
Moving on – is the film any good, taking this lecturing out of the equation? Well, no not really. The 80% of the film which is a ghost story is reasonable enough, with a suitably creepy atmosphere and some nice moments. But it is not that good, and frankly the score is overused to the point of annoyance. Tri spends the entire film on the edge of a nervous breakdown, even before things get a little supernatural. The 2% of the film about the actress is a total waste, required only for the apparently necessary twist ending. The 18% of the film which is about our young couple is actually a lot more interesting, but totally disconnected from the rest of the film other than a shared character.
Also, the whole concept of the film seems a little off kilter. Without spoiling too much, the idea is that the spirits of the aborted babies are taking revenge on those that killed them. So why then is the revenge so inconsistent? The abortionist actually talks her way out of it, one couple who are barely seen are killed off camera, our young couple have one bad dream (though to be fair the reality and medical result of the abortion are once again possibly more shocking), and two of the three people suffering in the main story HAVE NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH ANY ABORTION!!! Plus I am interested in exactly why, for a small part of the film, that Tri suddenly thinks he is in another movie altogether, the vastly superior Thai Horror “Shutter”?
But it does have some interesting stuff going on – the Abortionist character is actually fascinating and should have had much more screen time, with some of the little things revealed in the last 10 minutes being exceptional. It’s just a shame that it is left to a strange dénouement, that raises all sorts of questions that should have been bought up a little earlier like why did the police get involved at all?
So, in the final analysis, although there are a couple of bright spots, this is a real disappointment. Sure it is preachy and one sided, but actually fails more as it is unable to tell a consistent and interesting story, regardless of the message it wants to convey. Avoid.