Sunday, January 03, 2021

Krasue: Inhuman Kiss

It's been roughly a year since I saw the cover of this movie on DDDHouse (not far off from what you see there), had the entirely reasonable reaction of "this looks insane and I must see it now", and that it took me this long is not entirely my fault: I had just made another order from the place and tend to wait until there are a lot of pre-orders/new releases because the cost of shipping from this Hong Kong merchant is "significant base amount plus smaller per-item amount", but when I did pull the trigger, HK Post stopped dealing with the USA entirely, and the merchant wouldn't start shipping again until months later, so they cancelled my order. I reordered and got the discs in October, by which point I was deep into how every film festival cancelled during the year was having online versions in sequence. So onto the shelf it goes, joined by a great many other things. In the meantime, I see it on Prime Video, but it's half an hour shorter than the runtime, and it's apparently one of those times where pirates put something up there and Amazon doesn't notice until someone threatens action - probably Netflix, since they've got most of the worldwide rights, but I don't have Netflix...

Anyway, I'm curious about how often the people who do have Netflix have had this recommended to them, especially those who like horror. It's a genuinely weird movie - like I say below, it's a period coming-of-age romantic horror movie from Thailand - with a cast of young Thai actors, and I don't know what the Netflix algorithm grabs onto in order to get people who don't already know Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang (who has the most IMDB credits of anyone in the cast) to it. It's a pretty terrific little movie, but I have no idea how recommendation engines would find a path to it; for all that it's a lot of things different people like, it's only 25% any of them, after all.

And would people have known to go looking for it? From what I can tell, it was released in Thailand in March 2019, picked up by Netflix in May 2019, and made its way onto the service a month and change later, meaning it never hits NYAFF, Fantasia, Fantastic Fest, etc., where enthusiastic people like me might talk it up before it has another blip in October/November as Thailand's Oscar submission. As much as I doubt this was ever going to be any sort of theatrical hit, or sold gangbusters on Blu-ray, I don't notice any of my friends on Letterboxd having seen it and only one wanting to (which isn't necessarily a great proxy for awareness as I don't do watchlists myself), and some of them really, really like horror. It's a big-deal movie in its homeland that just becomes bulk for Netflix, so they can say they put so many "Netflix Originals" online over the course of a month. Shudder might have given it more individual attention, but then the potential audience is smaller.

(Truth be told, I'm kind of bummed I didn't get a Mitch Davis introduction for this at Fantasia. If he liked it, that would have been a treat!)

It's a huge shame, and I kind of wonder what other weird and delightful movies are falling out of view because a big service like Netflix or Prime scoops them up and figures it's not worth the manpower to both figure out what's worth promoting beyond the obvious audience and actually doing it, especially when it doesn't really matter to them whether you watch this or a few episodes of The Office.

Sang krasue (Krasue: Inhuman Kiss aka Inhuman Kiss)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

They say not to judge a book by it's cover, but take a second to look at the "cover" of Krasue: Inhuman Kiss - whether it's a poster, the slipcase for a DVD or Blu-ray, or the header image on a streaming service - and if that floating-head image doesn't get your attention, well, I'm not sure how. The point is, that image makes one heck of a promise, and amazingly enough, it delivers more. It is a period coming-of-age romantic horror ride the likes of which doesn't come around too often.

When they were kids, Jerd, Ting, Noi, and Sai went out in the woods playing hide and seek near a house said to hold a dead woman's spirit, with Sai reassuring Noi but coming upon something strange herself. Years later, they're teenagers, with Ting (Darina Boonchu) a young mother, Sai (Phantira Pipityakorn) assisting at the local health center despite the doctors having been called to the fighting in Bangkok, and Jerd (Sapol Assawamunkong) nursing a crush on her. He's a catch - handsome and from a rich family - but Sai still pines for Noi (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang), whose family moved to Bangkok some years ago, but has returned just ahead of Tat (Surasak Wongthai), who describes himself as a krasue hunter. Krasue are said to be monster women whose heads detach from their body and spits into wells, with a woman who drinks from the same well becoming one herself and a man who does feeling incredible until the krasue eats his guts. But that doesn't sound like Sai at all.

Does that seem like giving a little too much away? It's not - Sai is obviously going to be at the center of things from the opening flashback - but even if it was, there is a lot to come. Director Sitisiri Mongkolsiri and screenwriter Chookiat Sakveerakul have moments that could serve as climaxes at roughly every quarter-mark, expanding and twisting the story in ways that feel natural while also meaning that the actual finale is full of things that are completely insane. It's a neat trick that they get there fairly, and are able to keep things moving at the right sort of pace that they can take a moment to regroup without things going completely back to normal, with some things happening mostly off-screen but the ways that it does appear getting things across.

It works in large part because so much of the movie is emotionally grounded in things the audience understands even if, as an outsider, the setting is not immediately recognizable as the mid-1940s because where the filmmakers can, they seem to skew modern in things like wardrobe, hairstyles, and dialogue (at least, to the extent I can tell from the English subtitles on a Blu-ray produced for the Hong Kong market). There's something very natural about how these young people play off each other, rather than overheated, with the filmmakers seldom holding anything back or making them larger-than-life for melodramatic purposes. Noi is probably not going to find a way out of the situation with science, but it never seems futile or unreasonable (and the fact that it's presented like a teenager's science experiment helps). The filmmakers are smart about how the idea of a teenager as more than a kid but less than an adult wasn't really an accepted thing until after this movie's setting even if they were always like that, leading to the characters fumbling about earnestly and the couple years Ting has on her school-age friends being appropriately life-changing.

Not that this movie is actually subtle - the young cast is good, but their performance is seldom particularly layered, with Surasak Wongthai going even bigger as Tat. The film isn't as heavily reliant on jump scares as Thai horror can be, but composer Chatchai Pongprapaphan isn't shy about putting a big crash in the score when they come or pushing the tension hard at other points There's a nice pastoral look to it, not taking the path of a suffocating jungle but understanding how secrets can quickly be buried in this place, with a lot of room for mystery to be uncovered even as the area is modernizing. And while the visual effects are not quite so polished as they might be if this movie came from the United States or China, they use what they've got to good advantage: Make-up effects feel like they could come from either fairy tales or monster movies, elemental if not entirely real-looking, and the CGI used to illustrate the krasue is horrific, ethereal, and a little silly all at once, enough to let a viewer feel the characters' disbelief at the situations they find themselves in.

It makes Krasue: Inhuman Kiss (currently a Netflix exclusive with the first word removed from the title in most of the world) an exceptionally odd movie, a crazy bit of folkloric horror that became Thailand's Oscar submission, though not a nominee. That it somehow manages to be a jaw-dropping genre film and a smartly observed coming-of-age story is a minor miracle - as out-there as advertised but honest enough to make a viewer believe in its madness.

Also at eFilmCritic

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