สี่แพร่ง or See prang (4bia) Written and directed by Youngyouth Thongkunthon (The Iron Ladies) / Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter) / Parkpoom Wongpoom (Shutter) / Paween Purikitpanya (Body #19)
Filipinos love ghost stories. We love it so much that sharing a ghost story has become a staple in any type of gathering: birthdays, weddings, funerals, all it takes is for someone to mention a little strange episode---a flickering light bulb in a bathroom, a distant melodic humming, a passing shadow---and the stories start pouring in and almost everyone has something to share. There is a personal connection to the story and it runs deeper than urban legends.
Most of the time, it's in the blood.
Just the other night I heard something. My neighbor's son saw this. My sister's husband's nephew had a run in with. Sometimes it seems as if we live with ghosts. When one is moving to a new house or a new office, we often ask, "May multo ba dito?" (Is this place haunted?) while negotiating for lower rent. It is the natural aspect of the supernatural in our lives that make watching Asian horror movies more of an experiential trip down a dark memory lane.
Hollywood rarely frightens us. A university professor who had seen "The Exorcist," touted then as the scariest movie of all time, overheard an audience in the movie house casually say, "Nangyari yan sa pinsan ko eh, hindi naman to nakakatakot." (My cousin went through the same thing. This is not scary at all.) Serial killers, demonic haunting, that's not quite horror for us.
Ghosts, yes. Ghosts of friends and ex-lovers, jealous wives and cheating husbands, vengeful children and ignored admirers, yes, yes!
It's karma. It's that dark secret you've buried. It's your aunt's cousin's crazy son left in the mental institution that's tapping on your window 23 floors high.
And 4bia, uneven as it may be, is all this.
Happiness (Youngyooth Thongkonthun): 4bia doesn't get any scarier than its first installment. Feeding on our longing to make a connection, it tells the story of a young woman who is stuck in her room because of a broken leg and not surprisingly, she turns to her cellphone for a little company, having regular exchanges with a friend through text messages until she receives a mysterious SMS from a stranger, a lonely young man. They become "text mates" of course. When she sends him a picture of herself and he replies with the image that she has just sent, the fright that has slowly been creeping in abruptly grabs us by the throat and doesn't let go until a window shatters. The end is too neatly tied up but at this point, my racing heart didn't care. Maneerat Kamuan is nominated for Best Actress in Bangkok Critics Assembly Award . Wise Kwai has the details. 5/5
Tit for Tat (Paween Purikitpanya): Voodoo, using the term loosely, is a familiar form of revenge and Purikitpanya's frenetic and flashy direction tries its best to give it a sharper, bloodier edge but only succeeds in keeping my interest on the first half of the movie. A young, darker-skinned boy is relentlessly bullied and beaten up by a cool, fashionably hip group of friends. He conjures and cast curses through a book of witchcraft to inflict painful deaths without realizing the fatal ricochet of black magic. Glossy at best, the "Final Destination" body count frenzy doesn't allow for fear to settle in and results in a mechanical display of violence. One down, four to go. Yawn. The CGI ghouls/ghosts in the end only added to the too calculated orchestration of horror. 1/5
In The Middle (Banjong Pisanthanakun): Four buddies on a camping trip share ghost stories until one becomes too scared to sleep near the tent's entrance. The guy on the other end of the tent replies that if he were to die and become a ghost, he would haunt whoever is sleeping in the middle for a change. Of course, fate was listening too closely. "In the Middle" is refreshingly funny and geeky; the self-aware nods to other movies of the same genre (Shutter, The Others) lends it a tongue-in-cheek tone making one jump when the scares do shake the tent. Not exactly original but it is undeniably likable, like those stories you hear over beer. 3/5
The Last Flight (Parkpoom Wongpoon): The only a passenger, a corpse. That image alone, menacingly quiet in the dark rows of empty seats, is the movie itself. Everything else that surrounds it is familiar: the lurking jump-out-of-the-shadow scare, the lurking jump-out-of-the-shadow sound effects. As a study of atmosphere thick with anxiety, "The Last Flight" works quite well. Wongpoon composes images that linger, haunt even, but that's all they are, images too evocative to terrify. 2/5
The connection between the four segments is subtle and one that I admittedly had to look up. The chronology of the events (edited for spoilers) are:
Story 3 ("In the Middle"). One of the teenagers' name is Ter. Story 4 ("Last Flight"). Ter is mentioned as the brother of Pim's colleague and fellow stewardess, Tui (not seen in movie) who could not accompany the flight because something has happened to her brother. Story 1 ("Happiness"). The girl with the broken leg is seen reading the online news about a character's death. Story 2 ("Tit for Tat"). The image we see of the curse is the image of the girl with the broken leg.
4BIA Film Posters here.