JUNE 20, 2012
As I’ve said before, part of the problem with understanding a few of the Asian horror films I’ve seen is that their customs and beliefs are much different than ours, but their films don’t usually hand-hold to provide that context for foreign audiences. Nor should they; it would be annoying to native viewers just as it would if every American movie featuring a shot of the Statue Of Liberty had to explain its significance. But The Coffin actually does give a brief explanation for a Thailand custom involving laying in a coffin in order to bring good luck, so I thank them for that as otherwise it would have been pretty weird to start a movie off with people willingly entering “dead boxes” for some reason.
Sadly, even though it’s far more coherent than most others I’ve seen (at least, once it became clear that the two storylines were only connected in a very thin way), it’s not particularly exciting or scary. I know most Asian horror films are slower than their US counterparts, but even by their usual standards I found this one a bit lethargic, even when considering that it’s much shorter (82 minutes) than average. Basically, the movie is two quick ghost/“careful what you wish for” stories combined (sort of) and padded out to feature length. Our heroine goes into the coffin hoping to rid herself of cancer, and she does – but her boyfriend is almost instantly killed in a car accident. That’s pretty much it; she spends the rest of the movie figuring out why, which will be a chore to anyone who’s ever seen a Final Destination movie.
The guy’s story is slightly more exciting, because he visits graveyards and morgues and such, also trying to solve the mystery. His goal was to have his wife come out of her coma, which happens, but he dies for a few minutes in the process, and thus seemingly brings some scary ghosts along with him (this stuff gave me a Flatliners vibe at times). It’s also the source of some confusion, because I kept assuming one of the ghosts that were haunting him and his lady pal were involved with the other story, but actually we discover that his stuff occurred five years before hers, and only then (in her timeline) do we find out what was going on in his.
To be fair, the tie together is interesting, but it never justifies the disjointed, back and forth way that it unfolds. Once it concluded, I couldn’t help but think that maybe the movie should have just told each story separately, anthology style (perhaps adding a third and paring the existing ones down a bit to help with the pacing issues), so we could get fully invested with the characters’ respective plights. Other than the “a-ha!” moment when you discover how they connect (which is fairly tenuous), there’s no real reason for its structure. And by showing him alive in the future before we’ve even gotten to the end of his story, the movie is also robbed of some suspense – another baffling decision.
In its favor is some creative camerawork and strange but striking imagery not unlike that of an early 1990s music video (I was reminded of “November Rain” and “Come Undone”, for whatever reason). One of the few good scare bits involves a hallway of mirrored doors opening and closing; another eye-catching visual that elevates the fact that the scene is rather pointless. And I liked the camera trick style scares, where a character would see a ghost and then we’d pan over to another character, and he/she would walk over and the ghost would be gone (sort of like Annie walking back and forth in Halloween as Michael appears/disappears behind her).
Oh, and it’s in English for the most part. A few scenes are in Thai, but for 95% of the runtime the characters are speaking English (for real, not dubbed). Not sure why after 5 years that this seems to be the first Asian production that I’ve found that was shot this way; if you know of any others please let me know. One of my biggest issues for foreign language films is that I spend so much time looking at the bottom third of the screen that I often miss the actual action that is occurring, but of course a dub has its own problems. The other solution is to stop making your movies so talky, other countries! I didn’t have any problem with The Raid!
What say you?