Monday 27 October 2008

Toronto After Dark 2008 - "4bia"

As much as I love watching my DVDs at home (avoiding commercials, being able to pause, no electronic devices!, etc.), there's nothing like watching a movie with an audience who is onboard with a film's concept and ready to go wherever it takes them. As I mentioned in a previous post about the Spanish film [rec], this goes double for horror films. It adds so much to the experience when everyone around you is tensing up, giggling in anticipation, jumping out of their seats and then laughing in release at the same moments. And so it went for Thailand's newest horror film "4bia" - an anthology film of four separate stories.

Though the individual stories really have nothing to do with each other, there are actually a few strands that tie them together - a newspaper article that is only glimpsed in one story describes an event that happens in a later segment; a character's death has an effect in a different story; etc. Each story purports to be about a certain type of fear (or phobia), but that's really kind of irrelevant. These roughly 25 minute long stories are perfectly fine stand alone films as they are.

The first is a classic slow build...A young woman is essentially confined to her apartment due to a broken leg from a car accident. Bored, she spends most of her time on the Internet or text-ing on her cell phone. She receives a message from a stranger and decides to respond. It quickly develops into an amusing game that intrigues her, until her new friend gets a bit demanding and tells her he is on his way over. As she becomes ever more fearful and creepy noises start occurring and lights go out, the tension is layered on thicker and thicker. You kinda know what's going to happen, but it doesn't diminish things when it does. And the audience loved it.

The second story wasn't quite as successful, but still contained interesting elements. Its main problem is the absolutely frenetic camerawork, but the choppy editing and overabundance of CGI towards the end certainly don't help either. Similar to some recent North American style action films, it's all too much. But it still provided some scares that earned their seat jumping moments, especially the death scene involving the air conditioner. When you see it, you'll understand...The story itself focuses around a group of teenagers who bully another student. After a particularly nasty incident that severely injures the young victim, he retaliates via witchcraft. His weapon ends up being a picture that will kill you if you look at it. The story even raises a good question - if you don't participate in bullying but still let it happen, are you just as guilty?

The third story is the kicker though...If the crowd wasn't already bought into the film by this point (and the vast majority were), this one sealed the deal. Four young men are on a rafting trip and settling down to go to sleep in their tent. Urban legends and ghostly stories are told and they start freaking each other out a bit. When they have an accident on the water the following day, they begin to wonder how many of the stories are actually true. Though certainly spooky in spots, this one had the audience laughing loud and long. The interaction between all four of the guys was very natural and appealing while they purposely poked fun at each other and dropped movie references all over the place ("how come the ghosts always have long black hair?", "damn Thai movies..."). Their shirts were spectacular statements of devotion to U.S. culture ("I heart E.T.") and the guys were just spot on perfect in their reactions to each other's comments and jibes. The last story which followed this could have been about price fluctuations of soybean futures and the crowd still would've been perfectly happy walking out of the theatre...

Fortunately, the last story wasn't about soybean futures. It was an effective, if relatively straightforward telling of one woman being cooped up with a dead body. The interesting angle is that the woman is a stewardess and the body is that of a foreign princess being flown back for a state funeral. There's some additional background to the story that I won't give away, but the majority of it is the stewardess convinced that the body is still alive somehow and out to get her. Being a princess, they can't simply put the body in a coffin, so the wrapped up corpse is placed in a seat and strapped in. Of course, it doesn't just stay there...The story goes exactly where you think it will, but it's still pretty satisfying and ends a tremendously entertaining ride.

Undoubtedly one of the favourites of the festival given the reactions and buzzing discussion that followed the crowds outside afterwards. This could be a strong domestic release with very good word of mouth if someone would just take a chance and put it out in theatres. Don't remake it - it's just fine as it is.

"Lucky 10" was tonight's short and though not one of the stronger submissions of the festival (hey, it's a tough field!), I probably enjoyed it more than many others. Mostly because I like films that subtly repeat patterns or numbers - in this case the number 10 pops up just about everywhere. We discover some of the reasons for that as we delve into the story of a mysterious silent old man who has been a regular customer of a bar for many years. Through the eyes of a new bartender, we get the details of a curse...

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