Director: Pun Homchuen, Onusa Donsawai
Cast: Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Nuttasit Kotimanuswanich, Parisa Pinyakamolchart, Napasasi Surawan
Runtime: 1 hr 32 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Coarse Language and Violence)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 5 May 2016
Synopsis: PLE is a high school student who loves spending quality time with her cute friend, CARE. Together, they create a Facebook page for Care to share her personal photos and videos to garner 'Likes' from the public, with the hopes of eventually becoming a popular Internet idol. GRACE, who used to be a famous Internet idol, and JACK, who is Care's number one crazy fan, follow Care's personal life closely on Facebook. Together, the two use Care's publicly available personal information to plot a kidnap plan. Grace then later shows Care that the world is not a bed of roses, and wants to show her how the internet can wreck her world havoc, and attempts to ruin Care's life forever.
Not nearly enough attention has been given to how social media has altered the psyche of our younger generation, not simply individually but also how they relate to each other socially. How far would our teenagers go to achieve their fifteen minutes of fame? Do they know that fame is fleeting? What will they do when they eventually fall out of favour? What will they do to their peers who take their place? As exploitative as it is, the Thai psychological thriller ‘Grace’ throws up these thought-provoking questions even as it indulges genre fans with their fair share of lurid thrills.
The title of the film is in fact the name of its key character played by Apinya Sakuljaroensuk. A former Internet idol who has since – for the lack of a better word – fallen out of grace with the online community, Grace is bitter and resentful of others who have become more popular than her. One such person is Care (Napasasi Surawan), whose claim to fame are the stories, pictures and videos that her best friend Ple (Latthgarmon Pinrojnkeerathi) shares on Facebook on her behalf. Out of sheer jealousy, Grace kidnaps Care with the help of her number one fan, Jack (Nutthasit Kotimanuswanich), though the latter proves to have more of a conscience than she ever will.
Admittedly, the setup is quite basic. Grace’s motivation is her intense envy, which drives her to want to teach her fellow Internet idols a lesson about falling out of favour. Initially at least, Jack goes along with Grace’s plan because he is simply too enamoured by her, having spent hours after hours in front of his computer staring at her pictures. Care will eventually learn the cautionary lesson of not putting too much of your personal details online, lest someone with bad intentions comes along and decides to use them against you. Ple is a slightly more intriguing character; while on the surface she genuinely aspires for Care to find popularity, there is the nagging sense that she is in fact living vicariously through Care, constructing a life that she in fact wants for herself but knows she might never be able to attain.
Expanding his short film of the same name into a full length feature, writer/ director Pun Homchuen places the kidnapping front and centre, while relying prodigiously on flashbacks to reveal the relationships between the characters as well as their respective dysfunctions. In particular, he delves into the symbiotic relationship between Grace and Jack, demonstrating how Jack believes he needs Grace in his life as much as Grace really does need Jack in her life to feel a sense of validation. Grace’s perversity is laid bare throughout the course of the film, a product of her vanity as well as the fickleness of the Internet community, though we wouldn’t go so far as to say that we end up sympathising with her plight.
Oh yes, it may not be on the surface a work of torture porn, but believe you me, some of the scenes here do get pretty gory. That in itself may tickle the fetishes of some audience members, but there is something quite disturbing about watching teenagers exact such cruelty on and to each other all for the sake of fame. The latter is Pun’s way of justifying Grace’s actions, but it does make for an uncomfortable watch especially when Grace shows no qualms slashing Care’s face right across her right cheek. Fans of ‘Funny Games’ and ‘The Strangers’ will no doubt dig the violence, but those who are squeamish about such graphic displays best be prepared to look away.
Thanks to its topical premise, ‘Grace’ is never just a standard-issue revenge thriller. Even though it does amplify its bitch-fighting to slightly absurd proportions, there are echoes of its portrayal of teenagers chasing fame and power in the squabbles we see between so-called online personalities here. This is Pun’s first full-length feature film and that inexperience shows in the messy and slightly confusing jumble of events as the story moves back and forth between present and past; nevertheless, there is enough raw, edgy thrill to satisfy genre fans and a rich enough cautionary lesson for those looking for allegory.
(A suitably tense and thrilling watch, thanks to a topical premise and some luridly gory scenes)
Review by Gabriel Chong