Art Of The Devil 2 (Long khong)

Thailand (2005) Dirs. Ronin Team

Messing around with the black arts to get what you want in life is one of those things they should teach you in school in home economic classes, alongside the usual stuff about cooking, filing in forms, and what have you. At least the students in this film got a free lesson on this topic, only they had to learn the hard way…

Having graduated from school, a group of friends – Kim (Hataiwan Ngamsukonpusit), Por (Akarin Siwapornpitak), Noot (Chanida Suriyakompon), Ko (Pavarit Wongpanitch), and Tair (Korakot Woramusik) – reunite to offer support to Ta (Namo Tongkumnerd), after his father commits suicide. They accompany Ta on a trip to the remote village where his reclusive stepmother Panor (Napakpapha Nakprasitte) resides.

Two years prior to this, Panor was their schoolteacher and very popular with both the male teachers and male students alike. Ta was as troublesome boy so his father refuses to believe him when Ta tells him of Panor’s infidelity with sports teacher Coach O-Larn (Chalad Na Song Khla). So the group film them in the act and broadcast to it the whole school. Now, with the group back together, Panor wants her revenge.

It is fair to say Thai horror has been stuck in a rut of churning out films with long haired vengeful ghosts when the rest of Asia had long moved on. Art Of The Devil 2, a sequel in name only to an obscure 2004 film, will seem like a breath of fresh air as the antagonist here is very much alive and kicking (but still has long hair). I say “fresh” air – acrid and pungent is a better fit for what is essentially a Thai take on Torture Porn.

Outside of anthology films, I don’t think I have seen a single outing list seven directors, making this a first. The Ronin Team is comprised of Kongkiat Khomsiri, Art Thamthrakul, Yosapong Polsap, Putipong Saisikaew, Isara Nadee, Pasith Buranajan, and Seree Pongniti, whilst Khomsiri, Thamthrakul, and Polsap wrote the script. I really can’t figure how the direction duties were shared out, unless they each had an allotted section – i.e.: one did the flashbacks, another the torture scenes, and so on.

First, a warning – the film opens with a superbly gory scene in which Coach O-Larn (not yet known to the audience) cuts his hand on a hook whilst fishing and subsequently ends up with hooks bursting out of every part of his body. As arresting and sick as this is, it is almost 45-minutes before we get more gore, with a few spooks and gnarly moments randomly thrown in to build the tension. But when it kicks off – oh boy…

During this protracted shock free period, the backstory is told, boasting many layers of tit-for-tat warfare, built on lies, lust, betrayal, secrets, curses, and downright scuminess. One recurring character is a shaman who does a lot of business among the cast with almost everyone at one point going to him for a spell or curse to put on someone. He specialises in Cambodian curses which incur extreme measures in order to break them, as is the case here.

Before we get to the truth about Panor, we need to understand why Ta and his friends did what they did to her, which comes down to Coach O-Larn. Like most sports teachers he is a bit of a sociopath and after the video prank, holds the group at gun point while exacting his disgusting revenge on them. Meanwhile, Panor’s humiliation drives her to start self-harming before seeking shamanistic advice, but from a Thai elder, although Panor is told she will go insane if she goes through with it.

And go insane she certainly does, but the real reason she was in the position in the first is darker and less obvious that you might imagine. This might be a horror film relying on graphic and gratuitous gory visuals to upset us but the story does a good job with the subtext of laying the blame on the evil of people and not dark arts or curses. Whether driven by lust jealousy, or a desire to succeed, it is our base instincts and selfishness that are the dark forces in action, not the destructive otherworldly spells.

Whilst the quest for vengeance is rooted in Thai folklore, black magic curses, and voodoo-esque practices, the extent of the punishment meted out is beyond gruesome, making the infamous climax of Takashi Miike’s Audition seem like romantic foreplay. Skin is flayed, eyes gouged out, and even baby lizards burst out of the skin of one victim – this is gross yet quite inventive stuff, not to mention convincingly filmed with delightful precision.

Unfortunately, whilst much of the torture scenes are pretty graphic and will cause plenty of expectoration with its unpleasantness, Thai censorship stops it from getting just that bit too out of hand. However, the real victim of this strict suppression is the lustful saga of Panor’s succubus like allure, toned right down to the point it could be read she is being victimised just for being attractive rather than promiscuous. Same goes for an implied Sapphic relationship between Noot and Tair.

Credit to the special effects team for their incredibly realistic work, the lizards and fish hooks scenes are truly something to behold, and to Napakpapha Nakprasitte for being such a demented villain as Panor to commensurate with the nastiness of her actions. The youngsters do their best in their roles but have this uncanny ability to be obnoxious and unlikeable that we want to see them tormented to hell.

Luckily, the credible gross content allows us to forgive the plot holes and problematic but effective last minute twist otherwise Art Of The Devil 2 would be a complete miss. Both the first and third films seem to have vanished into the ether, so I can only imagine how they compare to this visceral nightmare experience.

Definitely NOT for the fainthearted!

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