Friday, April 6, 2007

Review: Alone

  • Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
  • Starring Marsha Wattanapanich and Vittaya Wasukraipaisan
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on March 29
  • Rating: 4/5

There's nothing scary about Alone, except for the corpsified ghost woman who keeps popping up.

A slick, self-assured thriller Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, Alone is up there with the best of the J-horror flicks that have gone on to be remade by Hollywood. It also recalls the best of Hitchcock or Cronenberg, with its dark, psycho-thriller elements.

Of course, Banjong and Parkpoom are the pair that made the smash-hit chiller Shutter back in 2004, and it's up for a remake by Hollywood, too, and it will likely be inferior to the original, as most remakes are. With Alone, Hollywood will have to work overtime to come up with a production that is as strong as this Thai film.

No, there is nothing scary about the screenplay, which contains some snappy foreshadowing -- the kind that when the stuff happens that was foreshadowed, you smack your forehead and think, "Why didn't I see that coming?"

There's nothing scary about the photography, which is luminous, nor the editing, which is tight.

And there is definitely nothing scary about the performance by Marsha Wattanapanich, who at 36 is twice the age of the Thai actresses playing most of the lead film roles.

None if it is scary -- it is all beautiful, and moving.

Except for that ghost girl. Now she's scary.

Alone is a tale about conjoined twins, or, if you prefer, Siamese twins, after history's most famous conjoined brothers, Chang and Eng. And indeed, the brothers, originally from Samut Songkhram, are referenced in this dark tale.

In a killer performance, Marsha portrays Pim, a Thai woman who's happily married and living in South Korea with her architect husband, Wee, also Thai, and their pet beagle, Lucky.

On her birthday, a call comes in from Thailand. Seems Pim's mother has had a stroke and is in the hospital. So Pim must return home. Wee and the dog accompany her.

The trip back home brings a rush of memories for Pim. And in a creepy, old wooden Thai colonial-style mansion, she is just not comfortable. Adding to the creepiness is Pim's mother's shy maid, who refuses to stay in the house. The flashbacks to Pim's childhood are bittersweet, showing the repressive bond she had with her conjoined twin sister, Ploy, who apparently died after the twins were separated.

Most of the previews for the film give away the good scares, like Lucky barking at a mirror, and Ploy popping out of it, scaring Pim so much that Pim falls headlong down the stairs.

She ends up in the hospital, babbling about seeing her ghostly sister. Wee invites an old friend to visit. He's a psychiatrist, and Pim suddenly becomes very impolite to the man. But to please Wee, she undergoes some sessions with the shrink, who tells her the ghost is all in her head -- that there's something buried deep in her psychosis that's causing it.

The doctor suggests a change of scene, but it doesn't help, as a walk on the beach shows. Where there should be one set of footprints in the sand, Ploys turns around and finds two, and is horrified. The look on her face is priceless.

Flashbacks go deeper and deeper into the relationship, with the dark, menacing Ploy saying she and Pim will never separate. And then, as children, while staying in the hospital, the diabetic Wee enters their lives. At this point, the younger Pim and Ploy are played by some actual twin sisters, and they, as well as the young Wee, come off just as strong in their performance as their adult counterparts.

A brilliant artist, Wee sketches a picture of the twin he favors most -- Pim of course. This makes Ploy very angry. Oh, and that's pretty scary, too.

And it keeps getting scarier and scarier, as the thrills, surprises and action keep building up.

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