S: The Screen at Kamchanod (2007)

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Throwing out a wider net for this Hubrisween, reaching out past my usual comfort zones of American and British horror, I found some lovely gems and, predictably, some mediocrity. At least I have to say in the case of the latter they were at least trying, and with The Screen at Kamchanod, succeeding enough that I wish the filmmakers had the resources to reach just a little further.

Then again, we have to realize my opinion can be regarded as more than a little suspect. I’m a fat white nerd in Texas sitting in judgement of a movie made in Thailand.

But let’s talk about that movie for a while.

First, as is mandatory, we are assured that this is based on a true story. Twenty years before, in the forest of Kamchanod, an outdoor cinema company was hired to screen a movie. At first, there was no one at the screening but the projectionists. Then, a group of figures suddenly appeared, staring at the screen. The movie ended, and these figures vanished into thin air, leaving behind a couple of very frightened projectionists.

(Outdoor movies are a going thing in Thailand; also the Kamchanod forest is on a small island cut off by waterways, and is the scene of many famous Thai ghost stories)

The young Dr. Yut (Achita Pramoj Na Ayudhya) is fascinated by this story, and along with the journalists Ji (Ongart Cheamcharoenpornkul) and Pun (Pimonwan Honnthongkum) is avidly researching it with an eye toward recreating the event, proving or disproving it. Dragged along

Don’t do it, Ji.

for the ride are Yut’s girlfriend Aon (Pakkaramai Potranan) and dissolute street kid Roj (Namo Tongkumnerd). Roj is the errand boy for the document restoration specialist Yut employs, and the doctor keeps him around mainly because the kid knows how to pick locks, which is handy when you’re doing Scooby-Doo ghost investigations (Shaggy does look like he’s picked a lock or two in his time).

Of the two original projectionists, one is a basket case in a hospital ward, an amulet to ward off ghosts bandaged in his eternally clutched fist. He can answer no questions, but gets violent if you try to remove the amulet. The investigation leads to an abandoned cinema where both men worked, which is also where the other projectionist died – reportedly killed by ghosts when he tried to burn the film that was shown at Kamchanod. Yut actually finds the film (which mysteriously resisted burning) and has the brilliant idea that they should watch it immediately.

This is a bad idea. But you knew that, right?

This is one of the most effective scenes in Screen, as our five investigators sit in an empty auditorium, watching the film as things begin to make themselves known in the darkness around them. Watching this in a theater was probably an unnerving experience. William Castle would have had a field day with it.

Everybody wakes up the next day with no real memory of how they left the theater, and things literally start to go to hell from there. Ghostly figures begin appearing to each, and they just get freakier as they approach the anniversary of the screening. Aon makes the observation that they are seeing fewer and fewer real people and more and more ghosts, and indeed, every time we see them travelling, the roads are absolutely empty.

The onslaught of the paranormal brings out the darkness in each of their characters, and this is just one of the ways Screen screws with the viewer: our sympathies are built on foundations of sand, and we eventually discover terrible things about them. Clues that puzzled at the very beginning bear awful fruit, and Yut’s obsession with recreating the screening, at the same site on the same day with the same film, will prove to be destructive indeed.

Specifically, this book.

The Screen at Kamchanod tells its story creatively, and its main drawback is that if you have seen any Asian movie about hauntings, you’ve seen most of the shocks unveiled here in one way or another. That doesn’t make them any less unsettling in presentation, and there are times the movie is visually stunning; this is the point at which my cultural shortcomings come into play. How much of this was fresh to the Thai audience, and how much played like the proverbial spring-loaded cat in American horror movies? The effect to me is that the movie plays like a supernatural mystery at both ends while the middle is interrupted by an anthology of spooky stories like the ones I devoured as a kid. And that’s okay. I loved those books.

Here’s a trailer with poor subtitles:

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