Country: Thailand

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 95'

Director: Thanit Jitnukul

Cast: Supaksork Chaimongkon, Arisa Will Somchai, Sathutham Krongthong...

GHOUL RATING: **(*) 3-

Story: A cute girl is unceremoniously dumped by her lover when her pregnancy is discovered. The lover just happens to be married and very rich. He agrees to pay a large sum for her abortion, but later proceeds to invite a bunch of friends to rape her (while he shoots all of it with his digital camera). The reasoning for this? 'To get his money's worth', of course. And also, to introduce himself as a hateful scumbag so that he can become a perfect victim for her revenge by means of black magic. The girl pays a witch-doctor to put a curse on the whole family, but their bloody deaths are only the beginning. When the family's cousins take over the mansion, she wants it for herself, and places a new curse on all of them...

Review: Thai film industry seems to have discovered that horror flicks sell well, and in recent years this country has produced a number of popular titles. This trend was started by the great success of NANG-NAK (1999) and also includes titles like BANGKOK HAUNTED (2001), RAHTREE: FLOWER OF THE NIGHT (2004), SARS WARS (2004), and SHUTTER (2005). Coming from a country with no rich tradition of horror films, these admittedly provide an exotic flavor to jaded fans of Asian horror, and as exotic spices – they deliver. However, viewed in the wider context of other Asian countries' horror output, it must be said that Thai horrors still lag far behind the Japanese and South Korean ones, and are only now approaching the levels achieved by Hong Kong productions from twenty years ago. The technical level of recent Thai horrors is quite decent, and above the cheap Hong Kong flicks from the '80-ies, but Thai horrors have a lot to learn from their Japanese and Korean brethren.

The main problem that bogs down most of Thai horrors is their over-reliance on melodrama. And melodrama is the last thing you expect or want in something advertized as a splatter. Talking about advertizing: ART OF THE DEVIL has an excellent cover, somewhat similar to the holy simplicity of SAW 2, and in the same manner suggests that 'oh, yes, there WILL be blood'. Razors and nails are very prominent in the packaging (DVD covers, posters, etc.). That's cool, but the problem is that such advertizing creates a somewhat inaccurate expectation. Because, what you really get in this movie is 90 minutes of trite melodrama of the lowest order (think of cheap Latino-American daytime soap operas) and only about 2 minutes of gore.

The characters, their motivation, their behavior, their dialogue: pure soap opera! If you're foolish enough to watch the film with the option of English dub (instead of Thai with English subtitles) then its cheapness becomes even more prominent. The structure of the plot is strikingly unoriginal, and boils down to: 'let's have some people do unimaginably cruel things to someone so that they could brutally revenge for the rest of the movie'. That's where 'black magic' comes into the plot, and provides the DEVIL's main set-pieces and ONLY reasons anyone might want to watch it. Said set-pieces include a guy cutting open his leg because he suspects something's crawling under his skin, and the much-advertized scene in which another one vomits razors. Fine idea, if you ask me, but the execution is disappointingly poor: all you see is some blood coming from his mouth, and then in the pool of blood you briefly spot dozens of razors. The way it is shot, edited and acted, however, does not even try to convey the brutality and pain involved: it's as flat as can be, and therefore misses the opportunity to be truly memorable. Luckily, there is at least one occasion in which the yuck factor is milked to its full potential. In the middle of the movie there is a scene in which a guy is taken to the hospital because he vomits worms. Medical science fails to prevent 9000 eels (according to the director's statement in the 'Making of' feature) to erupt from this guy's stomach and to ooze all over the white floor. His sister arrives just in time to witness slimy things coming out of his body: she slips and falls into the writhing mass of real, live, no-CGI eels covered with blood and slime...

ART OF THE DEVIL is Thanit Jitnukul's first genre work, and it's obvious that he's not familiar with it enough to provide genuine scares. The tone of the film is misjudged, with too much triviality regarding shallow characters going through the motions of their melodramatic actions, and there is no real sense of darkness and doom hanging over their heads which would make those 'drama' scenes palatable and atmospheric. The film is shot in a flat, uninspired way, the scenes are over-lit and photography is unimaginative, merely functional, like in some old made-for-TV flick. Instead of scares, at least this ART delivers some fine shocks, one of which including the inevitable 'a person unexpectedly hit and run over by an out-of-nowhere vehicle' scene – but with the difference that the person hit is a pregnant woman. You won't see it any time soon in an American film. If that's your thing in the first place. In any case, the make up effects are quite passable, while occasional CGI is poor enough to be obvious but not too poor to destroy the experience. All in all, ART OF THE DEVIL can deliver some low-level fun, but it's obvious that Thai horror must abandon melodrama and start honestly looking for its dark and sick heart the way that Japanese and Korean horror flicks are doing so efficiently! Real horror must be creepy in its non-horror scenes as well in order to work, whereas if you cut out the 3-5 minutes of horror in this flick – you're left with 90 minutes of a cheap, predictable soap opera with laughable superstitions thrown in.

DVD [NTSC, Region 1]: The package is nice, and suggests a class that the film itself does not really have: the cardboard slip case protects the regular plastic one, and they both prominently feature images that are NOT in the movie. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; the image is not very sharp, but it appears that it's the way it was shot and has nothing to do with the transfer. The sound options are: Thai 2.0, English 2.0 and English 5.1, but I really would not advise the English dub: the voice 'acting' is atrocious and will destroy the little horror you might otherwise feel watching this. The subtitles of the film itself are OK, but those on the extra documentary are not too good (their English is poor, but they are legible and understandable enough). This 30 minute documentary has a cheesy host talking in front of a temple with the director and three female stars, but there is very little valuable insight. The most endearing part is that, whenever someone expresses their opinion about black magic in this made-for-Thai-TV promo material, there is a Thai caption at the bottom of the screen which says: 'Please, use your own judgment.' Other extras include the film's original trailer (sadly, there's no trailer for part 2!), and also trailers for other recent Tokyo Shock titles: SISTERS, CURSED, KIREI, and ONE MISSED CALL. You also have the option of 'scene access', but its menu is rather poor, with close ups of faces which give you no idea about the content of a particular scene. To sum up: the flick is average, but can be interesting to some viewers; the DVD is a very good presentation of it, so - 'Please, use your own judgment.'

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