Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Distortion

  • Directed by Nonzee Nimibutr
  • Starring Sarunyu Prachakrit, Boonyisa Chantrarachai, Artit Wiboonpanitch, Arpa Pawilai, Suchao Pongwilai
  • Released in Thai cinemas on May 17, 2012; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 2/5

Is a thriller still a thriller if you expect there to be twists, and then the twists don't turn out to be all that surprising?

That's the problematic question that Nonzee Nimibutr's latest feature poses.

Distortion (คน-โลก-จิต, Kon-Loke-Jit) is billed as a "psychological thriller", but it doesn't really provide many thrills. Mainly, it's a showcase for Nonzee's hyper-stylized presentation.

It starts off memorably, with lots of blood and gore drenching everything while an jaunty little pop tune incongruously plays. A blood-soaked bed recalls Nonzee's 2001 version of Jan Dara, which featured a do-it-yourself abortion.

But after the opening credits it's all fairly tame until the end when there's twist after twist after twist after twist, all of which seem inevitable.

It aims to borrow a page from the Saw torture-porn franchise, but becomes a bit laughable because an actual saw in a sawmill is used, like some old-fashioned movie. All that's missing is a villain twirling his moustache. There's also a hammer, just like Oldboy.

And then there's existential musing while distorted images reflect off the rippling glass of Bangkok skyscrapers.

Chosen from a round in the Thailand Script Project and pitched at the Asian Project Market at last year's Busan fest, Nonzee co-wrote the screenplay with Putta Pitaksonakul.

The story involves four people who are somehow intertwined with a series of grisly murders taking place around Bangkok.

The main figure is a celebrity psychologist (Sarunyu Prachakrit) who's a self-help author and university lecturer. In his spare time, he turns up at crime scenes to offer his consultation services to his friend, the forensic pathologist (Boonyisa Chantrarachai).

Teaching class one day, a female student (Arpa Pawilai) comes in disruptively late. The celebrity psych is of course immediately drawn to the young woman with the dyed orange hair, oversized sunglasses and fashionably snug non-regulation university skirt-and-blouse uniform.

He thinks they shared a trauma in the past and becomes determined to sort things out.

Meanwhile, a sneering wealthy young businessman (Artit Wiboonpanitch) with a menacing pompadour and cigar is always turning up at social functions that the psychologist is attending, and Mr Sneer implies that he and the doctor shared some sort of past.

As the psychologist tries to figure out what all this means, his own psychological problems start to manifest themselves – obsessive-compulsive disorder, talking to himself, hallucinations, mirror punching, etc.

His investigation into the past involves a man (Suchao Ponvilai) he put in prison years before.

Meanwhile, the bloody serial killings are still going on around Bangkok.

What's distracting is that none of the characters are particularly likable.

The psychologist is a smug so-and-so who has the annoying habit of giving himself affirming pep talks as he starts his day. Miss Orange Hair could possibly draw the most sympathy of all the characters, but right from the moment she's introduced while swimming in a red bikini it seems like it's all an act. Sneery pompadour guy is a jerk, plain and simple. And the forensic-pathologist lady is just inert – there's not much reason for her to be in the movie.

The subject of childhood trauma and gay subtext in Distortion will likely draw comparison to the better-done and gorier Thai thriller Slice, which I'd rather I'd watched again than Distortion.

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