4bia (a.k.a Phobia)

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So after waxing on about how much I enjoyed anthology horror movies, it did seem somewhat remiss of me after looking at “3 A.M.” not to spend some time in the company in what was probably Thailand’s biggest hit in this mini-genre.  And while I am at it… a look at the equally successful sequel.  In terms of Directors, they actually have a good pedigree, and I have learned to look beyond mediocre IMDB ratings.  But first….. a rant.

The film is titled in the West “4bia”.  Which is I assume a play on “Phobia”.  Except, in no way does this work in English.  Not only that, but the stories are totally nothing to do with Phobia of any type shape and form.  It turns out that the actual Thai title when translated is more akin to “4 Crossroads”.  Which still isn’t fabulous, but I guess we do get the message there are four stories here (which isn’t true of the sequel!!).  Rant over.. on with the review.

We open with “Happiness” in which a young girl called Pin (Maneerat Kham-uan) is pretty much stuck in her apartment with a broken leg.  Her boyfriend has gone off on a camping trip with friends, and she is hiding from the rent collectors.  Boredom and loneliness are driving her insane, so when an unsolicited text message appears on her phone, her initial wariness is countered by the fact the person on the other end really wants to be nothing more than a friend.  She starts talking to him via text over a few days, enjoying their chats, even though she gets “number not available” when she attempts to actually call it, and her unseen friend is somewhere too cramped to have a laptop (as she would like to talk via MSN – how quaint these days!).  Things get a little bit more creepy though when she sends him a photo of herself, and his reply is the same picture back, insisting he he is next to her in it!  Things obviously escalate, and trying to stay spoiler-free, let’s just say things do not end happily, and that this is all connected to the incident in which she broke her leg.

I really loved this one.  It barely has any dialogue, but manages to use text messaging successfully (and show what a complete pain it is to old-school text in Thai).  It is full of interesting angles, and is shot in an attractive manner.  More importantly though, it really does start with a slow creepiness, that escalates.  We go from the point where the next text message tone/vibrate is something we are interested in, to something that provokes genuine terror.  What helps is that Maneerat Kham-uan is both an attractive and empathetic lead, managing to maintain the viewers focus and interest.  It is a perfect story for this kind of film, 25-30 minutes being just enough to explore the story, without it becoming boring and repetitive.

Next up is “Tit for Tat”.  This time we have a bunch of school delinquents who have been busted for taking recreational drugs, after being accidently exposed by a more nerdy classmate.  They bully this poor lad mercilessly, but he gets his revenge on them by invoking some black magic.  It simply does not work out well for any involved.

Now on the one hand, this is the most technically impressive segment with some flashy camerawork, fast edits, and some honest to goodness proper gore.  On the other hand, this style makes it almost impossible to watch without feeling seasick, and the actual story doesn’t require such a flashy approach.  Them , when it does calm down near the end, it introduces some of the worse CGI I have ever seen in a film.  it is frankly laughable, and any scares that might have been provided by the admittedly decent final revelation are lost because you will be laughing at the sheer awfulness of what is being displayed.  Cut behind the visuals, and the story itself is ok I guess, but certainly nothing terribly original: some nasty things happen to nasty people; using magic/curses to get revenge never works out well for anyone; and not getting involved and letting bad things happen is no defence.

The whole style changes in “In the Middle”, where four young men go on a rafting/camping trip (yes, one of them is the absent boyfriend from the opening chapter”).  They spend their time ribbing each other and chatting about movies, until there is an accident out on the river, and one of their number appears to have drowned.  But, that night he returns, and his friends start to wonder if he is alive or a ghost, and if he has come to exact some kind of revenge.

I am torn on this one.  It is easily the most basic of the four stories in both story and execution, but there is a certain charm about the relationships between the four boys.  It is somewhat meta, talking about films not only by the Director of this short, but also some recent Hollywood attempts at the Ghost genre.  In fact, if you haven’t seen “Shutter”, “The Sixth Sense” or “The Others”, then prepare to be spoiled.  But if you are watching this, then you probably have, and therefore the final reveal is somewhat obvious.  The segment as a whole is nothing more than ok, it feels pretty stretched out, ironically treading water for a good deal of its running time.

We end with “Last Fright”, in which an Air Stewardess is assigned to accompany a foreign Princess on  a Charter Flight from Thailand to her home country.  And this Princess is a stuck up, horrible cow.  However, it becomes clear that the Stewardess has been picked for a reason, in that she was having an affair with the Royal husband.  She starts to react to the abusive behaviour by doing silly things like stirring the coffee with the heel of her show.  Then things somewhat rebound on the Princess when she refuses her own meal, and demand that of the Stewardess.  Silly because it is Prawn based, and she has an allergy to it.  And just picking them out does not work.  So the Princess dies upon arrival, and now the same girl must escort a corpse on the return flight (which now I write this makes zero sense).  Thing is, this corpse now has even more revenge in mind, and the terrorising really begins.

This is the segment I actually wanted to like the most, even if it is in some ways the least original.  Tension is built up and released nicely, but the first half is somewhat ruined by some pretty awful English dialogue.  It also seems to hold back a lot on the potential for scares and visualising the horror, and whilst this can be good in a horror movie, I didn’t feel it quite realised its potential.

All the stories, whilst not having any kind of common theme, are at least linked tangentially via characters that seem to exist within some kind of shared universe.  I appreciate that kind of detail.   Whilst the individual shorts are variable in approach and quality, I did have a fun time watching them.  Sure only one was exceptional, but the other three offer something, even when they are not complete successes.  I’ll chalk this one up as Mildly Recommended, maybe as a taster for better Thai Ghost stories.

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