Monday, 1 August 2011


Film: The Coffin
UK Release date: Tbc
Year: 2008
Certificate: 18
Director: Ekachai Uekrongtham
Starring: Ananda Everingham, Florence Faivre, Andrew Lin, Karen Mok
Running time: 86 mins
Genre: Horror
Reviwer: Adam Wing

Legend has it that in Thailand you can spend the night in a specially designed coffin and cheat death, many people have claimed that such an event has changed their lives for the better. To prolong his girlfriend's life, architect Chris (Ananda Everingham) overcomes his claustrophobia and participates in the real life mass coffin ritual.

Diagnosed with terminal cancer one week before her wedding, Hong Kong nutritionist Sue (Karen Mok) abandons her life in the hope of cheating death as well. As is usually the case in this kind of thing, events don’t quite go according to plan (there’ll be no hugs and puppies on this one) and it’s not long before consequences far worse than death come a knocking. Come a crawling. Come a creeping… you get the idea.

The fifth instalment of the Final Destination series is fooling around with a similar concept this year, one that finds Death readdressing the balance of life. For every life taken back, there must be deadly consequences for another less fortunate soul. Hong Kong actress Karen Mok (So Close) and Ananda Everingham (Shutter) star in Thai horror hit The Coffin, directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham (Beautiful Boxer). The cast is completed by Hong Kong actor Andrew Lin (The Heavenly Kings) and Napakprapa Mamee Nakprasit, best known for her demonic performance in Art of Devil 2.

It’s taken an age for The Coffin to wash up on these shores, and anyone who’s seen the original trailer will remember what a striking proposition it was. Those particular scenes (the first breathtaking coffin sequence) are done and dusted within the opening ten minutes, leaving us with seventy minutes of sc-air time to fill. The concept is a neat one, both intriguing and thoroughly captivating, which is rare in this day and age of sequels and retreads. The first half of the movie overflows with dreamlike visuals, teasing terror and the occasional shocking twist, one in particular truly resonates.

The production values are genuinely impressive, and if you can ignore some wobbly dubbing, The Coffin makes for a welcome change of pace from the latest torture porn and slasher movies. Unfortunately, the second part of the movie isn’t half as appealing as the first. The Coffin turns its back on artful suspense in favour of traditional shocks and scares. When I first watched this movie a few years ago, the sudden change in tone disappointed me, but I have to be honest, it’s been a while since I saw an Asian ghost story, so this time around it found a more forgiving audience.

Back in the day it had been a good four months since I saw a calcium deficient dead girl stalking her prey, which by Asian horror standards is a pretty long time, so colour me disappointed that I found myself drowning in that familiar feeling of dread and fear. No, not that one, the one that comes with having to sit through the same loud jolts, out of focus editing and over-stylised jump cuts that have greeted us since the release of Ringu all those years ago. I’m not saying I’m against that kind of thing, Shutter proved time and time again that if it’s done correctly it can still be effective, but The Coffin offered very little reward for my patience. There were moments, but in a world besieged by vengeful ghosts, they were fleeting moments at best.

Watching The Coffin for a second time, on a day that finds lank haired demons few and far between, I can appreciate the work of Uekrongtham a whole lot more. Don’t get me wrong, The Coffin is hardly groundbreaking in its approach to token scares, but there’s enough here to warrant a frightful night in. Some of the set pieces are genuinely disturbing, and a gentle unease drips from the screen courtesy of its dreamy landscape and moody visuals.

Performances are solid if not spectacular, Karen Mok’s presence is always welcome on my TV screen, but I get the feeling that Ananda Everingham must be wondering if he’ll ever get a role that doesn’t involve him being stalked by murderous spirits. The plot gets a little out of focus in the final act and the revelations aren’t as interesting as they should be, having said that, the denouement does feel in tune with the rest of the movie. It’s not your traditional twist in the tale, in fact if anything it aims for heart plucking sentiment rather than heart plucking dead girls with vengeance in mind.

The Coffin sticks with a simple message and delivers on its promise. The ending is far more rewarding as a result, even if it is openly apparent by the end of the second act. Its not trying to be big, its not trying to be clever, and in doing so it remains surprisingly effective. The Coffin is a film of two halves then. A creepy, unsettling, well-executed first act makes way for compelling twists and a dreamlike sense of dread. Things go down hill in the final act, with Uekrongtham abandoning lofty ambition in favour of token shocks and scares.

On second viewing you know what to expect, and can appreciate the positive aspects more, but it’s still a crushing blow when you consider the quality of the first act. If only the rest of the film had made an effort to stand out from the crowd, rather than lurking in the same old shadows, maybe then we wouldn’t be feeling the urge to bury Uekrongtham’s The Coffin alive.

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