Cracked (ภาพหวาด, Surapong Plearnsang, 2022)

The traumatic past comes back to haunt a widowed single mother in Surapong Plearnsang’s eerie supernatural horror, Cracked (ภาพหวาด). A Singapore-South Korea-Taiwan-Thailand co-production, Cracked is adapted from an unproduced Korean screenplay and finds its heroine dealing with an inheritance both literal and spiritual following the death of her estranged father while she herself is filled with anxiety trying to find the money for an operation her daughter desperately needs to avoid losing her sight. 

In any case, the young Ruja (Chayanit Chansangavej) had been told “if we pretend not to see them, they cannot hurt us” which doesn’t sound like particularly good advice to begin with but perhaps fuels her reluctance to revisit the hidden past. Now living in New York with her young daughter Rachel (Nutthatcha Padovan), she is shocked when an old friend of her father’s, Wichai (Sahajak Boonthanakit), tracks her down and insists she return to Thailand her father having died. In addition to his giant gothic mansion seemingly inhabited only by a maid, her father has also left behind two famous paintings titled “A Painting of a Beauty 1 & 2” for which Wichai has found a buyer but needs Ruja’s consent. Ruja thinks the paintings are creepy anyway the recent history that the smaller was previously owned by a man who killed his entire family and then himself not withstanding and wants them gone as soon as possible especially if they raise enough to pay for Rachel’s medical treatment, but Wichai wants to have them restored first, his son conveniently enough being an art restorer. 

Ruja’s reluctance to look at the paintings is echoed in the instructions her mother had given her about unseeing the things that frighten her, yet being back in the house re-awakens a series of traumatic memories as she looks back on the way her father treated her mother from the perspective of an adult woman with a child of her own. Meanwhile, Rachel is keen to explore later explaining that she hasn’t been wandering off alone but in the company of a woman with a red scarf which is how she runs into Tim (Nichkhun Horvejkul), Wichai’s kind-hearted art restorer son. The problem is that the more Ruja is forced to look at the paintings the more they seem to decay, cracking so badly that the paint begins to fall away exposing a secondary painting below and a truth that Ruja did not want to witness. 

In a sense she’s been made to pay for her father’s transgressions, but also for her mother’s refusal to oppose them along with her discrimination towards another family she regarded as part of a “ghost-worshipping hill tribe”. Having been told to unsee Ruja is punished for the act of looking away, and perhaps also for having left and trying to make a new life for herself abroad having on some level forgotten what happened to her in the house and what she saw in her father’s studio. Surapong Plearnsang’s production design reflects her fractured viewpoint in the overlay between the broken window she peeks through and the hole in the painting while lending the paintings themselves an eerie disquiet painted as we later discover with violence and darkness by her already corrupted father later himself falling victim to a curse. 

The suggestion is that Ruja’s only escape lies in burning the past and creating a new history to pass down to her daughter free of the traumatic legacy inherited from her parents. “We only have each other now” she reminds Rachel, promising to protect her with her life while preparing to leave the eerie forest behind. Echoing the gothic in its creepy old mansion and obsession with corrupted legacy, Cracked is equal parts psycho chiller as Ruja tries to work through her buried trauma while assaulted by genuine supernatural forces of malevolence wanting her to pay for her parents’ transgressions aided by a more corporeal assistant seemingly hellbent on vengeance. Filled with a sense of dread not to mention extensive snake symbolism, Surapong Plearnsang’s haunted house creeper sends its conflicted heroine into the past hoping to fix the future only to discover that it’s not enough to paper over the cracks of an incomplete history, only by stripping the veneer and exposing the ugly truth below will you ever be free. 


Cracked screened as part of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Krasue: Inhuman Kiss (แสงกระสือ, Sitisiri Mongkolsiri, 2019)

Inhuman kiss poster 2Vengeful ghosts are one thing, but what if you get possessed by a malevolent entity and go about committing evil deeds during the night only to forget them by the morning? A Krasue, in Thai mythology, is a supernatural creature which infects an ordinary woman with a curse which causes her head to detach from her body at night to devour nearby cattle. The heroine of Krasue: Inhuman Kiss (แสงกระสือ) received the curse as an overly curious child only for it to activate on entering puberty during which time she is also caught between the love of her two childhood best friends.

The gentle Sai (Phantira Pipityakorn) first encountered the Krasue when dared to go into a creepy “haunted” cottage by her cowardly friends who largely stayed outside. 10 years later, she still misses her best friend Noi (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang) to whom she gave her protective amulet, while her other best friend, Jerd (Sapol Assawamunkong) silently pines for her but despite his confident persona is too shy to declare his feelings. Shortly after Noi returns from Bangkok in order to escape the approach of the war, a Krasue comes to town. Gradually, Sai begins to worry something is wrong when she keeps waking up with bloodstained sheets but is at a loss for what to do. Meanwhile, a band of bandit Krasue hunters has also descended on the village with the intention of “purifying” it of the troublesome curse.

Set around the time of the Second World War, Krasue: Inhhuman Kiss takes place in a rural idyll untouched by conflict but also home to ancient superstition and primitive prejudice. Though belief in the Krasue is fading, the evidence of its reappearance is undeniable and even if the townspeople can consider themselves “safe” because the monster only targets cattle, they still fear it and that their wives and daughters could become infected. Noi, who left the village long ago for Bangkok, has come back in search of safety but finds himself longing once again for the civilisation of the big city where monstrous curses are regarded as ridiculous superstition and modern medicine a potential cure for any ailment.

Thus when he realises that Sai has become a Krasue, his ultimate plan is to flee with her to the city where they might find help or at least different kind of safety in the midst of civil unrest. Originally horrified, Noi turns to a local monk for advice who counsels him that he should believe what he sees, but do as his heart tells him. Therefore he tries to protect Sai by preparing food for the Krasue so she won’t have to leave her house and risk discovery while he looks for a cure.

Meanwhile, Jerd becomes increasingly jealous of the obvious bond between Sai and her childhood friend but lacks the courage do much more about it than pout and resent Noi’s unexpected reappearance. Jerd joins the hunters, seemingly looking to emphasise his manliness against Noi’s intellectualism while allying himself with strong male role models like the worryingly intense Tat (Surasak Wongthai). In the end, however, both men act to protect the woman that they love albeit in different ways even as they fear she has become monstrous and a danger to herself.

The curse of the Krasue is, it turns out, the legacy of an ancient love triangle and an all powerful man who couldn’t accept that the woman he loved had fallen in love with someone else. Tat’s band of rage fuelled bandits are as much about misogynistic prejudice towards transgressive women as they are about protecting cattle from “supernatural” threat and their intimidating presence eventually puts a stronghold on the increasingly jumpy village in which the torches and pitchforks eventually come out in a show of intense paranoia.

The wartime corruption has finally reached the village, rendering it no safer than the city and infected with a deeper, older anxiety born of wounded male pride and female subjugation. Selfless love struggles to endure but may be no match for the humiliated rage of a spurned lover leaving acts of mutual sacrifice perhaps the only path towards salvation. A supernaturally tinged coming of age tale in which a teenage love triangle neatly overlaps with an ancient curse, Krasue: Inhuman Kiss is a surprisingly rich and delicate experience which imbues its essential horror with genuine warmth and deeply felt compassion.


Krasue: Inhuman Kiss was screened as part of the 2019 Udine Far East Film Festival.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Bad Genius (ฉลาดเกมส์โกง, Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)

Bad GeniusesThe world over, education is held up as the best path out of poverty but it is also true that the cards are stacked against those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds when it comes to academic success. Nattawut Poonpiriya’s Bad Genius (ฉลาดเกมส์โกง, Chalard Games Goeng) is part exam-set heist movie, morality play, coming of age tale, and attack on social inequality. Bright kids study hard for scholarships that will send them to foreign universities and then onto a secure middle-class life, but while they work themselves to the bone the less able rich kids get there first thanks to the resources and connections their wealth brings them. When locked out of a system, attacking it from underneath seems like a good idea, but then again there are always hidden dangers even the finest mind fails to see.

Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) is an extremely bright girl. Her father (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), a schoolteacher, wants to send her to an exclusive high school which has a reputation for sending graduates to foreign universities. Lynn’s achievements are impeccable and there’s very little chance the school won’t want her but her interview starts to go south when she wavers on the question of whether she actually wants to go there. Showing off her maths skills, Lynn proves that her dad will be paying a lot more in additional costs on top of the fees and she’s not sure it’s worth it.

This piece of honesty coupled with her swift mental arithmetic gets her offered a scholarship but Lynn finds it hard to settle in to her new “elite environment” until she ends up bonding with the less bright but cheerful and bubbly Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan). Things begin to come unstuck when Lynn ends up helping Grace cheat on a test so that she can achieve her dream of acting in the school play. Grace has a big mouth and so her boyfriend, Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo), also wants in on the action. Pat is not Lynn’s friend and she’s not keen but when he offers her a substantial amount of money Lynn can’t help but be swayed. Soon enough it’s not just Pat and Grace but half the school and Lynn finds herself plotting a complex conspiracy of examination fraud which involves international travel and extreme feats of memorisation.

The saddest part is, all of this starts as a mistaken attempt at friendship. Lynn’s first mistake was helping Grace cheat when became clear she’d never get the grades. She did this to help her friend who was worrying about being kicked out of the school play just because her maths is bad. Likewise she doesn’t want to help Pat, but doesn’t want to let Grace down and can’t deny the money is helpful. Little by little, Lynn is seduced by all the adoration she’s getting from these rich kids who wouldn’t give her a second look ordinarily but are now entirely dependent on her in their academic lives. Her finely tuned, systematising mind loves solving the puzzle of the perfect scam while her loneliness leaves her basking in her newfound popularity.

Lynn’s seduction into the world of cheating is partly born of a kind of class rage but it comes from a surprising direction. Grace, a blabbermouth, lets slip that the school charges its fees at a very uneven rate. The less able students like Grace and Pat are paying a kind of idiot tax. Not having met the academic requirements, they’ve bought their way in through paying higher fees and making donations to the school. Even Lynn’s father has payed a significant amount in “tea money” despite her scholarship. This knowledge provokes a kind of outrage in Lynn, disappointed with the school’s lack of integrity. Cheating gains an additional attraction in getting back at the “corrupt” school system, but Lynn hasn’t thought it through. She thinks this is a victimless crime – the dim rich kids get their grades and please their parents, she gets rich, everyone is happy. Lynn hasn’t considered how taking the rich kids’ money makes her an enabler of the very system she rails against in allowing them to continue using their privilege to get ahead at the expense of genuinely talented students like herself and her friend/rival Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul).

Smart as she is, Lynn is not so much of a people person and consequently it takes her quite a long time to realise she is being exploited. She’s drawn to Bank because, like her, he also comes from an impoverished background and reminds her of her father in his absentminded goodness. Lynn breaks her own heart when she realises that all her scheming has destroyed the thing she loved as Bank’s pure soul becomes corrupted by cynicism in realising it will never matter how many exams you pass, the rich kids will always have everything zipped up tight. Rather than join the rat race, there might be a better way for smart people to earn money fast by exploiting the obvious weaknesses of the elite’s spoiled children rather than expending time and energy playing by the rules.

Shot with rigorous attention to detail, Bad Genius is both tense exam room thriller and humorous teen drama which lays bare the negative effects of pressurised education and social inequality on the hopes and dreams of young people. Lynn’s passage from isolated smart kid to criminal mastermind is heartbreaking in its quietly devastating conclusion in which she realises honesty and integrity have their own value but also that the choice has always been hers and she has the power to own her own story rather than allow someone else to claim it for her.


Screened at the BFI London Film Festival 2017.

International trailer (English subtitles)