14 November 2006

The Unseeable

The Unseeable
The Unseeable, the new film by Wisit Sasanatieng, is a ghost story set in 1930s Bangkok. A pregnant woman, Nualjan, has come to the city in search of her missing husband, and she stays as a guest in a run-down old mansion owned by the elusive Madame Ranjuan. The house and its grounds are haunted by a child, a hanged woman, and a gardener (amongst others), and the atmosphere is decidedly creepy. This is a traditional haunted house, complete with billowing curtains and creaking doors.

Nualjan is intimidated by the housemaid, Somjit, who is seemingly lifted straight out of Rebecca, with her high-necked black dress, stern demeanor, and sudden appearances. Indeed, the mansion in The Unseeable has a backstory and presence as foreboding as that of Rebecca's Manderley, and Ranjuan and Rebecca exert a similarly all-embracing power over their respective homes.

The film's twist ending is similar to that of Art Of The Devil II, and The Unseeable was actually written by one of that film's directors, Kongkiat Khomsiri. The film's Thai-language title literally translates as 'having an affair with a ghost', which gives a fairly large hint. There is such a rapid series of expositional twists in the final reel that, rather than explaining everything, it all becomes more confusing.

The Unseeable is markedly different from Wisit's previous films, the brightly-coloured, camp melodrama Tears Of The Black Tiger and the modern fairy-tale Citizen Dog. The over-saturated colours are gone, replaced by a palette of muted browns evoking 1930s interiors. Much of the film takes place at night, in another contrast to the bright daylight of his previous work. (Though Wisit is popular on the international festival circuit, his films are a bit too quirky for domestic audiences. This may change with The Unseeable.)

Wisit wrote the script for Nang Nak, a hugely popular film about a man who doesn't realise that his wife is a ghost, and Thai cinema has been flooded with ghost films ever since. The Unseeable is therefore a 'safe', commercial choice, but Wisit is by no means selling out. It may be yet another Thai ghost story, though its period atmosphere seems to be frozen in time (particularly as its spectral conclusion implies the cyclical nature of the story).