Quite possibly this film will hold the record for actually getting a review done after seeing it. It has really been a couple of years. But I managed to find a DVD of it recently, for next to no money. Sadly, it is one of the worst DVDs I have ever purchased, but luckily I was able to watch it again by other means. And it is such a fabulous movie, it deserves me lavishing some praise.
“The Unseeable” takes us to 1934 Siam (that’s Thailand to younger readers), where Nualjan (Siraphun Wattanajinda), a young pregnant bride, has come to the outskirts of Bangkok to find her missing husband. She has followed the trail to the mansion of the reclusive Runjuan (Supornthip Choungrangsee), a Widow who has taken to hiding from society after death of her husband. Nualjan is encouraged to stay by the earthy Choy (Sombatsara Teerasaroch), and is reluctantly given permission by the uptight and severe Housekeeper Somchit (Tassawan Seneewongse). Nualjan is keen to stop as her child is about to be born, but she is surrounded by strange characters and goings on in the estate – there’s a man who is constantly digging at night, a child that keeps running around that no-one else can see and a creepy wizened old lady. Once she gives birth, things get stranger, as Runjuan requests time with the child alone. Lured in my the mysteries, Nualjan eventually discovers all the secrets of this place, unwittingly discovering the truth about her lost husband, and eventually her own fate.
Atmosphere is the key phrase when talking about this film. The sepia-toned visual pallette gives the film a real sense of time and place, although clearly the film has been made on a small budget (Thai “New Wave” Director Wisit Satsanathiang is better known for more lavish affairs, of which we will look at one in a future review,but here he has had to work in much more constrained financial environment). The costumes, make-up and hairstyles, along with the musical score, evoke the 1930’s perfectly, not just of the country, but of the Hollywood films of this era. In fact, I would be very shocked if Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” wasn’t the inspiration here. Much of the film makes use of flashbacks, but it is always clear when this is happening. They are somewhat stylised (they reminded me of the directors “Tears of the Black Tiger” in some ways, but that’s a good thing).
The story builds slowly, but there is always something creepy going on, either in full view, or just behind the ever present Nualjan, or sometimes just at the edge of the screen. Not only that but the sound-scape generated is genuinely creepy. This is a movie that I would dearly love to watch in a cinema one day (not likely to happen, unless I one day curate my own festival), because it is clearly attempting to creep out the viewer in a visual and aural manner. The are a few jump scares, and even more creepy images, but the film isn’t trying to make you jump out of your seat. It tries to get under your skin, and makes you feel nervous and worried.
Siraphun Wattanajinda is an attractive and sympathetic lead, though she is not really too stretched, but she manages to hold your attention. This is important as she is in pretty much every scene until the various storylines start to resolve. Non-actress is fabulous, mixing the tragic beauty with an underlying menace. And Sombatsara Teerasaroch provides great comic relief (she really stops the atmosphere becoming too overbearing), with her fabulously honest dialogue.
I am in danger of entering spoiler territory, but as the final 20-30 minute unfolds, and everything becomes clear, it isn’t that surprising. It’s the common device used in more modern ghost stories, but it does go a little further, which could be excessive to some, but I liked the way pretty much every classic element comes into play. And whilst “Rebecca” is very much a ghost story without ghosts, “The Unseeable” has them coming out of every storyline.
It is fair to say that this film probably isn’t the most original in terms of story. But it has a visual and aural style that is rarely matched in Asian cinema. It isn’t a movie that relies on the final reel twist, or a single powerful performance. It is a film that drags you in, and whilst not the scariest ghost story, actually manages to affect you on an emotional level. Highly Recommended.