Memory aka Ghost House (Rak Lorn)

Thailand (2008) Dir. Torpong Tunkamhang

For my next Halloween watch I found this Thai effort in my ever-growing pile of unwatched DVDs, which was hard to track down details of as it is known under two titles – Memory and Ghost House – and there doesn’t appear to be any other reviews of it either.

A psychologist named Krit (Ananda Everingham) is alerted to the case of a child heard screaming daily from the house recently been bought a single mother Ing-orn (Mai Charoenpura). The child is a seven year-old girl named Pare (Sun Khumpirannon) with bruises on her arms and legs, leading to concerns of abuse. Whilst Ing-orn can’t be forced to take her to hospital, she is under obligation to take her to a psychologist.

Pare is terrified of a ghostly boy only she can see who attacks her. Ing-orn refutes any allegations of abuse towards her child, claiming Pare has a wild imagination. Krit forces the issue and offers to treat Pare at her home, gradually falling for Ing-orn yet remains concerned she is still hiding something.

Whilst the rest of Asia have been doing their best to move away from the vengeful Sadako-esque female antagonist in their horror films, Thailand seemed last to get the memo, still producing films in that vein until quite recently. Therefore, it’s a surprise that Memory bucked this trend almost a decade ago.

More of a psychological horror with supernatural elements – there are only two graphic scenes – Torpong Tunkamhang has opted for the slow building atmospheric approach that relies on the performances and the odd jump scare to unnerve the audience rather than explicit content. Jump scares may also be another casualty of overuse in modern horror but Tunkamhang chooses his moments wisely.

From the outset, we can see Pare being tormented by something or someone that bears a resemblance to her in age and build, and that Pare is blatantly terrified of him. Yet all Ing-orn does is scold her for being silly, denounces the existence of ghosts and vows to protect her, but her version of tough love isn’t working.

Whether to delineate her personality or just because this is cinema, Ing-orn is never shown as anything less than well groomed, setting alarms bells off about how involved she really is in Pare’s issues. Hiding behind a pair of big sunglasses when out in public she gives off an air of high maintenance or perhaps just fancies herself as a MILF.

Krit is clearly mesmerised by Ing-orn (and with good cause) but his wife Rarin (Pharujee Kemsawad), who lost their unborn baby in a car accident, is feeling frozen out of his life. Since the film runs just 89 minutes, this angle is not fully explored leaving Rarin to pop up every now and then, acting sulky and practically encouraging Krit to succumb to Ing-orn’s more welcoming charms.

The nagging feeling that Ing-orn is at the root of Pare’s problems never goes away, (not to mention her prominence on the film’s poster) leading the viewer to feel they have figured everything out early on. But they would be wrong. Plenty of clues are handed to us on a silver platter – Ing-orn’s previous husband being abusive towards her, a general distrust of men for starters – but they tell just half the story.

And this becomes a bit of a problem as the first half of the film is all about Pare, whilst the second is about deciphering Ing-orn’s behaviour and piecing the clues together to draw a valid and plausible conclusion. But Tunkamhang doesn’t want to make it too easy for us, and throws in some reality bending dream sequences to toy with the narrative and our perception of the characters’ motives.

Despite the brief run time, the tension quietly builds nicely enough and even takes timeout to explore the psychological theory behind our behaviour, as if to validate this aspect of the story as something which Tunkamhang has researched and not just used as a gimmick to make his film seem more intelligent than it is. Fans expecting gore and scares will find this a drag, so only those with patience should be watching.

Because the problems are psychosomatic, the final reveal – which includes a genius twist – is diluted by a last minute rush of information pertaining to Ing-orn that threatens to undo much of the groundwork laid before it. Endings are always hard in horror films, especially when motives require explanation, but some tend to deliver theirs and say “well that’s how it is”. Tunkamhang isn’t that clumsy or arrogant but a few questions are annoyingly left unanswered.  

This isn’t a big budget film, with a grainy look and a 4:3 picture ratio that dates it a little, but a palpably chilling atmosphere is created through the steady camera work and eerie silence  – aside from the intrusive musical swirls that give away something spooky is about occur – and efforts from the cast.

Ananda Everingham is a popular actor in Thailand with form in the horror genre, having starred in 2004’s international hit Shutter. As Krit he is kept on a tight leash emotionally as the concerned but serious doctor, coming across as rather milquetoast as a result. Mai Charoenpura is also no stranger to horror but as Ing-orn she is called on to be ambiguous hiding the true depth of her acting as revealed in the final act.

However it is the youngster Sun Khumpirannon who steals the show as Pare, essaying the fear and torment of the character with a rare insight from someone so young. The reactions are convincing and never overplayed and one can’t help but feel instinctively protective towards the little nipper even when Ing-orn is around.

Memory is a tale about the endless cycle of emotional and psychological distress caused by abuse. For a Thai horror it makes a refreshing change thus is a pleasant surprise. Not really groundbreaking but certainly potent enough.

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