Thailand (2018) Dir. Mate Yimsomboon
Ah, to be a teenager in love. Meeting that special someone to make the days feel more special, growing up together, and taking those first bold steps towards adulthood as a loving couple. Nothing can ruin it – well, except for overbearing and oppressive parents and erm… death!
Nard (Supawadee Kitisopakul) sent to a new school away from home by her mother (Pimpawan Chokbawonmatawat), meets Mac (Chitiwat Wattanasiripong) on her first day, an older rich boy who takes a shine to Nard. As Nard lives alone, Mac pays her many visits under the pretence of being her tutor, and they soon become a couple, going as far as consummating the relationship.
When Mac’s mother (Porntip Hengwattanaku) learns of this, she accuses Nard of only being after Mac’s money and moves Mac out of school to separate them. Nard then discovers she is pregnant and her mother takes her back home to have an abortion in an illegal clinic but Nard dies during the procedure, though her restless spirit and her dead baby live on, intending to make life a misery for everyone else.
Thailand is one of the few Asian countries that has yet to abandon the long haired, vengeful female spirit for something a little more sophisticated and original, and feels no shame about it either. Ghost Wife is the debut from Mate Yimsomboon, someone we can infer is a fan of the genre as much of this is beat-for-beat faithful to the horror films that have come before it.
Usually this isn’t a problem as studious filmmakers learn from what they see then make something new with these templates, which Yimsomboon only shows occasional hints of doing. One thing it does have going for it is the unique Thai perspective towards the supernatural, which, like other Asian countries has a strong religious subtext, justifying shaman and monks as a means to a resolve.
More importantly, the central haunting by Nard comes from a rather romantic place than a thirst for vengeance but this takes a while for this message to come through, partly to make it a big surprise for the viewer. Another reason for this might be, and this is pure speculation, to avoid big messy violent set pieces which may be for budgetary reasons, something else that is also revealed over time.
Yimsomboon must be a romantic at heart judging by the way the first act, in which the teen lovers get together, is as fluffy and atypical a build up as you’ll ever see in a horror film; maybe he has created a new genre the Horrorom! Anyway, Nard is the pretty, chaste vision of loveliness that has caught handsome Mac’s eye and has him emptying his wallet to get her attention, though Nard always pays him back.
His persistence pays off and after gaining access to Nard’s tiny flat as her personal tutor, things heat up, or rather warm up in the glow of a dreamy, virginal white aura soon to burst by the act of physical congress, which somehow can’t top Nard from retaining her sweet innocence. It’s a shame Mac’s mother doesn’t approve as the kids make a nice couple but she thinks Nard is a gold digger corrupting her pure son, but the pair remain defiant and vow to wait for each other.
No reason is given why Nard died during the abortion procedure other than suggesting the dodgy clinic might be to blame, but there is room for questions as Nard’s out of body experience and appearance of her demon baby is a sufficiently unpleasant distraction. For the rest of the film, the ghoulish apparition of mother and child spook the tenants of the apartment block, leaving landlord Joy (Kamolnapatch Thanwong) scrambling to find ways to rid the building of this unwanted supernatural guests.
The mid-film twist takes a while to sink in, and though it is not explicitly discussed, the script isn’t so unhelpfully dense that we can’t figure it out for ourselves so when the final confirmation actually arrives, we feel some sympathy for the ethereal protagonists. It might not be the most original twist but it makes a refreshing change for the terrorising to be motivated by something other than anger and hatred.
Horror as genre rarely lends itself to such sentimentality and sweetness, nor do they feature such a cute, unspoiled main character (in her normal form at least), which is why the scarier moments – which most will see coming – including the (animatronic) demon baby feel like an odd juxtaposition to this fluffy tale of teenage love prevailing against the odds.
If only this were a comedy or a spoof, a less aggressive, non-bloodthirsty spirit would have more capital, but some, ahem, mean spirited (sorry) audiences might find some humour in the hokey exorcism attempts. But, as misplaced as the endgame may appear in the grand scheme of things, there is something endearing about the purity of ghost Nard’s motives, affirming that this teenage crush is the real thing and she will go to any lengths to make it work.
One thing that doesn’t work is Mac as a schoolboy. Chitiwat Wattanasiripong looks like an adult squeezed into a junior’s uniform, the damage done by the shorts usually worn by 6 year-olds. The impossibly fragrant Supawadee Kitisopakul on the other hand has no problem convincing us she is a schoolgirl and radiates with maturity as a young mother too, all reflected in her amiable performance.
Generally, the presentation belies the low budget although some of the SFX will raise eyebrows among the extremely picky, but Yimsomboon manages to make it work within his limitations, so whilst it pales in comparison to mega-budget affairs it’s hardly “visible wires” and “blatant green screen” level embarrassing.
Being hard on Ghost Wife is too easy. Yes, it is hardly original or dynamic enough to stand out, but it’s earnestness is palpable enough for a valiant first effort. Trust me, you’ve seen worse.