Monday, June 29, 2009

Songsak Mongkolthong's The Screen At Kamchanod (2007)

Without a doubt, and I'm certain my few readers are sick of hearing it, but I absolutely love what I call "quiet" films: nothing loud or obnoxious or quickly-paced or product-laden but mostly sparse and leisurely-paced and unassuming and sometimes still. Don't get me wrong, I certainly very much love films of the former but really prefer the latter. I don't really know why. Perhaps it's because most of life is fairly intense, where I see logic fail on an grand scale daily, I take solace in cinema which doesn't attempt to grab and keep me entertained as if I have ADD but like a slow continuous current I can wade through it without fighting or just let myself float away with it. So give me five characters, an irrational experiment, unforeseen consequences, the confrontation of inner demons and external ones, a soft celluloid palate, and a little bit of history, and we have Songsak Mongkolthong's The Screen At Kamchanod (2007). Twenty years prior in the Kamchanod forest, there was an outdoor screening, and at the start of the screening, there was no audience. However, as the night drew on, the film spooled or broke, and to a white screen, an audience appeared out of the forest. Myth or real, paranormal or coincidence, young Dr. Yut wants to find out with an experiment to recreate the screening ("Is there an overlap between this world and the next?") but is missing the actual film. With the help of a couple, Ji and Pun, who are also reporters, Roj, the lonely, drug-addicted assistant to a shopkeeper, and Yut's girlfriend, Aon, who has about had it with this life, Yut begins to assemble the clues and learn the location of the film. Through the network of projectionists, Yut and his cohorts learn that the film's original projectionists were Pradrab, whose whereabouts are unknown, and Chin, who's at a local hospital, unresponsive and nearly vegetative. Chin has a bandaged fist, and when Chin refuses to talk to Yut about the screening, Yut decided to cut the bandages from his hand revealing a small trinket. Chin flips out and begins to see things. Yut promises to give it back, if Chin reveals the location of the film. Pradrab has it, says Chin, and as Roj arrives to deliver Yut some documents, almost fortuitously, Roj tells Yut that there's an abandoned movie theatre. The theatre has been abandoned for years and the projectionist, Pradrab, was famous for screening movies for ghosts. One evening, he locked himself inside his booth with the intention of burning the film, but rumor has it, that the ghosts killed him to save the film. When Yut's crew of five arrive, they will be the first folks to visit the theatre since the last screening.
Needless to say, they find the film and screen it (its images are Kamchanod forest?), and The Screen At Kamchanod takes on the feeling of the world ending not with a bang but a whimper. Evocative of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's masterful Kairo (2001), the answer to Yut's original question ("Is there an overlap between this world and the next?") comes much sooner than the film's ending (where the original screening is replicated). "Have you noticed," asks Aon to Yut, "that we are seeing fewer living people and more ghosts?" Yut believes seeing ghosts everyday is normal; however, it's taking quite the toll on the others. Pun breaks down from her encounters and Ji begins breaking down, because the woman he loves is breaking down. Roj starts sleeping on the roof and begins using more, since the dope is better up in his head than the ghosts. Aon, who was first glimpsed by the viewer in nearly a trance and wanting to kill herself, wanders throughout the whole film. She's haunted by not just the other-worldly but by the real world, which isn't such a happy and safe place to begin with. While Mongkolthong attempts to provide the bang to the wonderful whimper of The Screen At Kamchanod with the ending, although clever and intriguing, the real attraction of the film is not the investigative mystery behind the original screening but the film's bulk in the middle. Aon, portrayed by beautiful Pakkramai Potranan, and Roj (Namo Tongkumnerd) are Screen's most interesting characters: they are from the wonderful WKW/French New Wave mold, where crying is often covered by sunglasses. Roj is reluctant and really drawn to the mystery because he's quite lonely. His initial encounter with Aon is on a train platform, where he saves her from nearly killing herself. Roj becomes entranced with Aon, often stealing noticeable glances of her and her legs when he can. Aon's self-destructive beauty is also alluring to Roj, and to the viewer, and the two consummate their relationship in almost the most unexpected way. Potranan's Aon, initially, would seem a collateral character and her only involvement is as Yut's girlfriend. However, Potranan really conveys a lot of the heartfelt emotion of the film and is easily the most captivating to watch. Aon's and Yut's relationship, also, comes to a very interesting conclusion, as well.Finally, it should be mentioned, since this is a horror movie, the creepy ghost imagery runs the gamut from ineffective to effectively creepy. I really enjoyed just watching these five characters fill Screen with their supernatural encounters. Mongkolthong creates some beautiful set pieces, such as the scene in the movie theatre when the crew views the film. The ending, although a little over-dramatic, is quite effective and creepy in its own way. I love the photography and the look of Thailand in the film: some gorgeous imagery with the colors of brown and grey, alongside weathered concrete temples, the nearly ancient-looking movie theatre, and wonderful glimpses of a quiet city (mostly populated by ghosts). The Screen At Kamchanod is a film likely to alienate horror fans and kind of float away into obscurity. Also kind of appropriate for a film about the dangers of crossing over into unknown worlds, don't you think?

No comments: