If you?re satisfied with horror movies having only a bit of atmosphere, a tad of exoticism in the location, performances alternating between angry, frightened, and timid, and devoid any surprises, scares, or much of a plot, then the Thai ghost movie The Unseeable is for you. Anyone else should steer clear of this extremely disappointing third feature from director Wisit Sasanatieng, who made the delirious, eye-poppingly gorgeous eastern western Tears of the Black Tiger and the not-so-good, but at least good-looking romantic comedy Citizen Dog, and should have produced something much better than this dull recycling of tired clichés and empty atmosphere.
Young country girl Nualjan finds herself ?in trouble? and comes to the city looking for the boyfriend who abandoned her. She stops at a large estate in the jungle and finds herself surrounded by all sorts of spooky goings-on and bizarre individuals. Like Madam Ranjuan, the owner of the property, who secludes herself in her boudoir all day, doing nothing but swishing around in silky negligees and listening to old records, but welcomes a mysterious lover into her chamber every night. There?s also a mean, old bitch of a landlady who keeps track of Nualjan?s every move and stalks the grounds with a lit oil lamp, even during the daytime. Superstitious housekeeper Choy is present for occasional comic relief and also to school Nualjan in things both esoteric (like gut-eating vampires) and mundane (?This house is full of spooky stuff?). Finally, there?s Grandma Erb, a crazy crone who lives in a shack behind the garden and clutches a scary-looking baby doll. In her daily strolls around the grounds, Nualjan also spots a little girl who wants her to come and play (even if they had blondes in Thailand, the source of this rip-off couldn?t be more obvious), a shrine inhabited by a ghost who steals the offerings with a pale hand, and a long-haired, suicidal woman?s ghost hanging from a tree. Why would anyone stick around in a place like this, you ask, especially if she?s on an urgent mission to find her lover? Look no further than the plot device in her belly ? the baby comes due and she?s stuck. But by this point in the movie, it?s obvious that everything around Nualjan is rooted in the spirit world, from the whispering in the dark to the movement in the shadows. (And if you hadn?t realized that already, there?s plenty of spooky music to clue you into it.) What?s the story behind all this strange behavior, and how does Nualjan fit into it? Only the most patient and forgiving horror fans won?t have figured it all out by the halfway point and checked out of the movie intellectually, either hitting the fast-forward button or mentally going through their grocery list.
Old-fashioned in only the bad aspects of the word, The Unseeable lays the 1930s period atmosphere on hard, but to no avail, and to no purpose whatsoever other than to give the proceedings a bit more gloss than if they were set in current times. The story is a straight Gothic melodrama ? women in flowing dresses sitting in a decaying old mansion, pining for lost loves, while an evil servant skulks about ? and the climax even hauls in an unfaithful man, murder and hidden bodies, all of which are ?scary movie? chestnuts that were worn out back in the 1940s. Trust me, you?ve seen it all before so many times that any fright fan worth his salt could have written this screenplay in a couple of hours. And unfortunately, Sasanatieng does nothing to liven up the dull story with his usually-trademark sense of style and gloss. Instead, he relies on manipulative sound effects of ghostly noises and musical stings to heighten the tension (or rather, not), and recycles tired old ghost movie sequences, such as a sequence where the audience sees an out-of-focus form in the background of a shot, only to have the main character whirl around and find?nothing there! (This one gets used a half-dozen times.) Literally nothing happens for the first 70 minutes of the film, only to have all the revelations piled on in the final 20 ? and ridiculously, the main reveal comes in the form of a flashback that Nualjan has of events she couldn?t possibly have witnessed! Ripping off The Sixth Sense and The Shining to equal degrees, The Unseeable is a horror movie for undiscriminating non-horror fans only, and should be roundly ignored by everyone else. Here?s hoping Sasanatieng returns to a genre he cares more about for his next project.
Unseeable is playing as part of the '07 Philadelphia Film Festival.