Horror and comedy are often more compatible than it might seem, but despite the outward ridiculousness of Thai ghost story Premika (เปรมิกาป่าราบ, Premika-Parab) the issues at its heart are deadly serious. A selection of guests assembled as part of a PR launch for an isolated hotel resort soon find themselves plagued by the vengeful spirit of a murdered karaoke girl and forced to sing for their lives while across town a noble policeman tries to convince his less dedicated colleague that they still have a duty to find the person responsible for a gruesome murder even if the victim was likely “just another worker kid”. Xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, police corruption, people and organ trafficking, exploitation and a host of other social ills become fine fodder for a vengeful ghost but, perhaps, not so much for comedy.
A dismembered body is discovered in the forest. Honest policeman Lt. Poom (Todsapol Maisuk) is determined to investigate the crime-scene despite his sergeant’s attempt to order the rest of the men back to the station as soon as the commanding officer has left the area. Sgt. Ped (Kittipos Mangkang) writes the unfortunate girl’s name down as “Premika” – taken from the label on the cosplay sailor suit she is wearing and abandons the case.
Meanwhile, a number of guests including several celebrities, a film crew, and a couple of competition winners on a delayed honeymoon, assemble at a remote hotel as part of a soft launch PR exercise. The trouble starts when two vacuous Instagrammers power up an old karaoke box sitting in the reception area for decorative purposes. Unbeknownst to them, the box is a definite health hazard because it contains the rotting heart of a murdered girl jumped started into a vengeful fury as her ghost finds ample scope for revenge in these variously troubled souls.
To leave the ghost to one side, the guests begin to argue amongst themselves as they’re forced to spend time together in the otherwise isolated hotel, hardly noticing the strangeness of the goings on which include blood pouring from the taps and sudden blackouts. Once the karaoke loving ghost arrives she challenges each of them to sing for their lives – if they get the words wrong, go off key, or fail to get over 80 points on a song picked at random they will fall victim to her bloody axe of vengeance.
There is however a method to her madness – the ghost is looking for her own killer who happened to be completely tone deaf, leaving her with a deep seated hatred of those who hog the mic but can’t sing. Finally she gets the chance to sing her own sad song of vengeance in which she reveals the tragedy of her past – a poor farm girl sold into the big city red light district and then unable to escape because of the money she “owes” to her captors. Molested, beaten, raped, she finds herself exploited by men with no sign of escape and, as the news paper reports at the climactic moment record, she is far from alone. The police are themselves complicit in a vast ring of female exploitation and people trafficking. It’s no wonder Sgt. Ped wanted to forget the whole thing – after all “it’s just another worker kid, who cares”. Lt. Poom at least cares, reminding his sergeant that the victim had a mother too and deserves their respect in death even if they failed to protect her in life.
Prioritising the silly comedy over the serious issues, Premika fails to make the contrast hit home, allowing the humour to undermine the inherent critique of a misogynistic society while also indulging in some of the very ideas which support it to get a few cheap laughs. While there is a quiet lament for unrequited, unspoken same sex love, the androgynous photographer’s ambiguous gender is a constant source of comedy (even if the homophobic/anti-trans slurs directed in their direction eventually send a microphone right through the abusers chest) lending a slightly sour note to the proceedings as “Premika’s” axe continues to fall on the enablers of misogyny.
Premika screens as part of the New York Asian Film Festival 2018 on 13th July at 8.15pm.
Original trailer (English subtitles)