Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: Maha'lai Sayong Kwan (Haunted Universities)

  • Directed by Bunjong Sinthanamongkolkul and Sutthiporn Tubtim
  • Starring Panward Hemmanee
  • Released in Thai cinemas on October 22, 2009; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Anthology films are all the rage these days, especially horror anthologies. Following the success of GMM Tai Hub's smash hit Phobia short-film franchise, producer Prachya Pinkaew and Sahamongkol Film International join the trend with Maha'lai Sayong Kwan (Haunted Universities) -- four loosely joined but solidly scary ghost stories that take place in the halls of higher learning.

Young helmers Bunjong Sinthanamongkolkul and Sutthiporn Tubtim make their debut as a directing team with Maha'lai Sayong Kwan , though Bunjong previously directed the Mum Jokmok-produced mad-dog comedy Wor and Sutthiporn has been an assistant director and crew member on several productions.

The four stories are joined together by vignettes of a young woman with a special gift (Panward Hemmanee) who works on one of Bangkok's volunteer rescue crews. These are the jumpsuit-clad folks who race around the city in pickup trucks with lights flashing and sirens blaring, retrieving corpses from car wrecks, suicides and other mishaps. Panward's character is talking on her mobile phone most of the time. Just who she is talking to is not made clear until the end of the film.

The first segment, The Toilet, begins on Khao San Road, where a group of students are out drinking. Trouble starts when a couple of rough characters -- one is played by Chalat na Songkla -- turn up and start a fight. Chalat grabs a whisky bottle and wails on one of boys so severely the kid should be dead. But he's not. Battered and bruised, the young guy and his girlfriend are bundled into the back of the bad guys' car, where the girlfriend is surprised to learn her sweetheart has been dealing drugs and owes money to the two men. To retrieve the unsold merchandise, the foursome drive to the young guy's campus, where he has the drugs in his locker. Then, for a reason not really explained, the bad guys want to have look around. That's when they're told about a ghost in the fifth floor bathroom, where a student killed herself and there's now a shrine. This first story is the weakest of the four in terms of a coherent narrative, but it's still pretty scary as the students and their abductors ride a creaky old elevator up to the fifth floor. It stops on every floor and a ghost is waiting on each one, getting closer to getting in the elevator at each stop. But for these folks -- the two students and their captors -- going back down will be a lot quicker.

The second story, The Elevator, also deals with a scary elevator in a classroom building. The "red elevator" is actually haunted. It was where students were gunned down during the 1973 democracy uprisings. Now, generations later, one young freshmen -- the granddaughter of the general who ordered the killings -- has been singled out during the hazing rituals. To put an end to the punishment, she has to ride the red elevator. It turns out to be the worst elevator ride of her life, because the spirits of 1973 are still very much present. The co-ed ends up covered in blood and from then on, she's seeing activist ghosts wherever she goes. Eventually, she also sees some of the human stories behind the protests, and the guilt she feels for what her grandfather did becomes overwhelming.

Third is Morgue and a switch to comedy, with a story of a dental student who is frightened of corpses -- a career-killing fear for a medical student who must practice on cadavers. This young goofball named Prasert has to make up for his foolishness and get on the good side of his professor by volunteering as an orderly at the teaching hospital. Little does he know when he offers his services that the job he has to do is to watch over the morgue. And it doesn't help when his friend, appropriately named Joke, is always around pulling pranks. The tension and fun ratchet up as the rescue crew brings in the body of a drowned woman. The police call and want Prasert to look for a tattoo on the woman. It should be a simple manner, but for the squeamish Prasert it becomes an ordeal that makes the cops impatient and his professor disappointed. The ringing phone, squirming Prasert and his imagination of dead people who still move keep the suspense going. Prasert can't walk into the morgue without believing the corpses are all animated, and when one of the sheet-covered bodies sits up, Prasert is ready to fight back.

The fourth and final segment is The Stairway, about a pair of young women in their dormitory who get into a webcam chat with a creepy guy, who terminates the chat session by saying he's going to murder them both. The girls write the guy off as just a weirdo. One goes to sleep while the other steps out for a late-night dinner. Finishing up at the roadside eatery, the young woman is approached by some trash-talking teenage bikers, only to be chased off by a man who has an air of authority. His smooth talk and clean-cut look makes the girl relax and she accepts a ride back to her dormitory with him in his SUV. But it's a setup. Mr. Smooth is in league with the creepy webcam nerd, and they drive the woman into the woods, where unspeakable horrors await. But this short is called The Stairway. Why? Well, you'll have to see it to figure that out. But it's not the stairway to heaven, that's for sure.

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  1. Can't wait to watch the film and compare it with "Phobia 2"

  2. I agree.... this one looks pretty good too judging by the Trailer at least...

    It's going on my list to keep a sharp eye out for when it gets to DVD!


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