Ghost of Mae Nak (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers deals with yet ANOTHER haunted house and angry Asian ghost...
Young newlyweds, Nak and Mak, acquire an old (and I mean old) abandoned house in Bangkok that soon brings them into contact with Mae Nak, a vengeful spirit of horror, despair, and head mouths. While Mae Nak's ghost protects the couple from unscrupulous visitors, it soon becomes apparent that she expects a terrible favour in return. Only by setting Mae Nak’s spirit free will the couple have any chance of surviving her deadly wrath.
According to Tartan USA's official website, the story of the ghost named Mae Nak has already been filmed at least twenty times before (most famously, it states, as the 1999 ‘hit’ Nang Nak). I suppose my question to writer/director Mark Duffield is, why? Why would you make another film based on this story, which already bears a striking resemblance to the majority of popular J-Horror titles, such as Ju-On and Ringu? Without watching the film, I assumed that Duffield had something wholly original and exciting to add to the formula. Unfortunately he does not.
Other reviews for the film seemed to indicate a kinship with the Final Destination films. Upon reading that comparison (one of which adorned the box art) I was very excited. Final Destination 2 is one of my rainy day favourites, and the original movie isn't half bad ether (the third one was a bit of a disappointment, but still decent fun). As the film progressed I didn't notice much in the way of Rube Goldberg inspired, graphic death mayhem. I assumed that the film was just a slow started, spending its first third focusing on character.
At the half waypoint I began to realize that there weren't going to be very many chain reaction deaths, and that I didn't much care for these characters. The newly wed lovebirds are bland people all around, and their favourite couple catch phrase (‘Nak loves Mak.’, ‘Mak loves Nak’) is pretty puke-worthy. The supporting characters surrounding them offer little release from this bland existence, all the way up until Nak finds a medium to help her figure out what evil ghost Nak wants. The medium is pretty cool, as is the scene (perhaps the only really original one in the film). These actors are all relative newcomers to the profession, which isn't unusual for a Thai production, but none of them give a standout, or even more than simply passable performance. I'm not sure how much of this is a cultural barrier (perhaps Thai people are more reserved in general than I am use to), but the majority of the performances are flat and lifeless.
But back to the violence. Basically Mae Nak startles a few people, and they die in bad ways. There are three semi-inspired scenes of gory chaos, but the most memorable one is taken from three other (and better) films. An innocent victim is sliced in half by a falling pane of glass, long ways. The set up is pure Final Destination 2, the effect is pure 13 Ghosts remake (hey, I kind of liked it, at least as much as this film), and the original inspiration can be found in Richard Donner's classic child of Satan opus, The Omen. Truth be told, I'm not all that fond of The Omen (or any Donner film for that matter), but I admit freely that it was the real inspiration behind such ‘creative deaths’.
I guess what I'm trying to reiterate here (over and over again, I'm not the best writer in the world) is that this film is entirely unoriginal, and most unfortunately of all, not very interesting. I'm personally thinking of starting a petition prohibiting the use of the ‘mirror scare’ (the one where someone opens a medicine cabinet, only to see someone standing behind them when they close it) in all future horror films. Had Duffield found a way to offer up something truly chilling, or at least a little more outstanding gore, maybe I could've overlooked the film's cookie cutter base. And the shock ending was very awkward.
What I will commend Duffield on is his visual sense. Not surprising at all is the fact that Duffield has acted as cinematographer on several films before making this directorial debut. The film looks fantastic, if not a little over stylized. I was dreadfully bored by the story, but the visuals kept me from falling asleep. The technique utilized, which is consistent throughout nearly the entire film, is a nice mix of high contrast and soft lighting. Basically bright objects and highlights are blown out, and dark objects and shadows are pitch-black, but the edges between are soft. Night scenes tend to be drained of colour, while daylight scenes, and specifically the flashback sequence, are surreally colourful. The effect is very nice.
As mentioned above, the film is very stylized in its look, so a thorough analysis is a little difficult. There is a lot of grain, but I'm pretty sure its present on purpose, and I kind of liked it honestly. The aforementioned high contrast, soft focus technique is well produced here, but I'm not sure about some of the fogginess during daytime sequences, especially during the flashback. This fogginess, and occasional image doubling, looks suspiciously like an accident.
The print appears to have been damaged, and non-uniform grain, dust, and other artefacts flicker throughout. I'm also suspecting that this is not the Tartan usual progressive transfer. The presence of occasional combing is usually a tip of the utilization of an interlaced transfer. This is a better than average transfer, but not one without its shortcomings.
Both the DTS and Dolby Digital tracks are very impressive, more impressive than even some big budget Hollywood releases. Even the simplest sound effect, such as ambient noise, is well designed and allocated appropriately to the correct surround speaker. The film's opening sequence, where Mak is awakened by a knocking at his door is very realistic. The door knocking moves with the camera angle, is very high in fidelity, and in the end so realistic that my cat made his way over to my door thinking it was real. Very nice work.
First up on the special features front is a commentary with director Duffield, who if you haven't figured it out yet based on his name, isn't Thai at all, but British. Duffield seems like a really nice guy, and does his best to fill every inch of the track with information and anecdotes. Eager to please, but never obnoxious, this track is pleasant, if not a tad dull. Sorry Mark, no offence meant.
The vast majority of Tartan Asia Extreme releases come fitted with a short behind the scenes featurette that always acts more like a long trailer for the film than an informative documentation of the film's making. This disc takes the other road, and includes a long and detailed behind the scenes account that has little need for entertaining its audience. Basically this is an hour of 'fly-on-the-wall' footage. Had I been involved with production, I might've loved this video dairy, but without focus or narration, it's actually pretty boring. I appreciated its inclusion, but don't really enjoy watching footage of people working.
As per usual, the disc is finished off with some Tartan Asia Extreme new release trailers.
Ghost of Mae Nak doesn't do much to separate itself from the Asian ghost pack, but die hard genre fans will eat it up. The only thing that may interest those not enthusiastic about the genre is the beautiful visual presentation. Director Mark Duffield shows a lot of promise as a director, but perhaps not as much as a writer. Hopefully he'll prove me wrong in the near future, because his eye alone begs at least a minimal interest. The DVD itself is a little lacking on the video front, but has an exquisite sound mix. The extras will only interest those who loved the film.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 10th October 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: DTS 5.1 Thai, Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Making Of, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mark Duffield
Cast: Pataratida Pacharawirapong, Siwat Chotchaicharin, Porntip Papanai, Jaran Ngamdee
Length: 103 minutes
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