Remember a couple of years ago when I was very impressed with Sophon Sakdaphisit’s “Ladda Land”? His smart “based on an urban legend” horror film was not only a good horror tale, but also worked great as a tale of societal problems and family breakdown. So when his latest dropped through my letterbox, I was really excited to see what he had next in store for us. Would it live up to high expectations, or would this water based tale end up a damp squib?
“The Swimmers” is in essence a tale of a messy love triangle. Star School Swimming star Tan (Thanapob Leeratanakajorn) introduces his hot new girlfriend Ice (Supassra Thanachat) to his rival/friend Perth (Chutavuth Pattarakampol). Problem is Perth falls for Ice bad. And then Ice commits suicide in a rather messy manner at their pool. Both boys are very upset, especially as Tan reveals that Ice was pregnant, and he wants revenge on whatever guy did this to her. Problem is, Perth and Ice had been getting it on, and a bout of unprotected lust means that Perth was the secret and careless lover. Perth doesn’t just have the issue of hiding his secret from the really angry Tan though. Nope, he is also haunted by the ghostly appearance of the undead Ice, and it also appears he is carrying their unborn child himself! Oh, and his mother has started a relationship with his Swim Coach. But as the story unfolds, and we get glimpses of the past, we see maybe that things aren’t quite as Perth believes, and maybe we haven’t quite been told the whole story.
First things first. This is one good-looking movie. Classy to look at with some really nice underwater work. Even better, the scares on offer are first class. Sophon Sakdaphisit also wrote the screenplay for “Shutter”, so we really should not be too surprised that he knows how to unnerve and cause his audience to jump. And whilst the use of flashback and the equivalent of unreliable narrator (basically we are given some information very early on in the film which is actually incorrect, and it clouds our judgement of everything until the final set of reveals) can be occasionally a little confusing, it leads to a more thoughtful watch than the bang-bang style horror films we are used to. And one scene in particular, where we see Perth visit the grave of his aborted child simultaneously in the present and the past is excellent. Perth’s actually pregnancy might raise more titters than scares, but to be fair, the script does resolve it in quite a successful manner (although I am not completely sure that the film should be saying Hep B is only common amongst young people who have unprotected sex, but more on this preaching later).
The acting is fairly good, and I would be lying if I didn’t think that the cast are all ridiculously good-looking. Which actually leads me onto the main problem I had with the film. See, our three leads are all from a really popular TV show in Thailand called “Hormones“. It’s a really unusual show as well, as it deals with issues like under-age sex, abortion, homosexuality and drug abuse amongst young people that are really not discussed in the actually quite conservative Thai culture (yes I know, sex capital of the world etc… it really is quite an irony). And this film is produced by the same company that own the TV station that produces “Hormones”. On one hand, you could say “good for them”, using their power as a media supplier to get these issues out in the open. On the other hand, you could also say this is a quite cynical marketing ploy, to build on the controversy. My issue though is hard to explain, without spoiling the film a bit. It really does have the feel of an “After School Special”, albeit one with added jumps and scares. Unprotected sex has consequences. You might fall pregnant. You might catch an STD. These are all true. And it’s something to be lauded. And you could quite easily take all the horror parts of the film as constructs of Perth’s guilty conscience. I might even accept the cultural impact of a maternal suicide as a potential side effect.
What I can’t accept though is the film’s conclusion. A character gets away with not one, but two murders (you culd actually suggest three). Scot free. Sure they might have a burden of guilt. But to be honest? Their life seems fairly rosey compared to those who don’t make it to the end of the film. My point here is that if the film wasn’t quite so preachy about certain things, that I could maybe see the conclusion of the film in a different light. But to see the moral being – don’t wear condom=bad and murder/manslaughter=you can get away with it, well it just doesn’t sit so well with me.
Quite a rant there. I apologise for that, it isn’t what I normally do. “The Swimmers” is a great movie. It really is. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better shocker from Asia this year. It’s technically adept, does what it sets out to do, and does have a valid social message to convey. It’s just the ending that makes me only just classify this as Recommended, with severe reservations.