Director: Pass Patthanakumjon
Cast: Sedthawut Anusit (Tua), Panida Techasit (Preem), Ekawat Ekudchariya (Best), Latkamon Pinrojkirati (Pim)
Runtime: 1 hr 37 mins
Rating: PG13 (Horror)
Released By: Clover Films, mm2 Entertainment, Shining Entertainment and Shaw Organisation
Official Website: http://www.fivestarproduction.co.th/en/school-tales/
Opening Day: 12 January 2017
Synopsis: Every school has its tales of horror and mystery… The marching band is staying overnight in school for their annual camp and the members decide to “test” if some of their school’s ghostly tales are for real. Years ago, a fat, slow-witted student was constantly bullied by his classmates and the students called him “Giant”. One day, Giant was tricked into an abandoned building in the school. He panicked, ran and died in a freak accident. After the incident, students avoid going to the building and those who wander near would hear a voice asking “Where are you?”… The library is haunted. It is told that anyone who wants a ghostly encounter should go to the library when it’s empty and disrupt the peace… Pawadee was murdered when practicing flute in the band’s rehearsal room. Her spirit lingers in the rehearsal room and will be summon if one plays a note backward.
‘School Tales’ is hardly the first Thai horror film to be constructed around schoolyard ghost stories, but it certainly is one of the more effective ones we’ve seen.
The template is a familiar one – a couple of students who happen to be in the school grounds at night decide to find out for themselves whether the stories that they have been hearing about the ghosts in their compound are real. As you may have guessed, these members of the school’s marching band who are staying over for their annual retreat to practise for an upcoming competition would certainly be better off if they had not tempted the unknown.
Among the foolhardy are the pudgy bespectacled Top and the handsome but arrogant Net, who test out the legend of a former schoolboy named Yak that had fallen from the stairs of the old school building and died from a broken neck, such that anyone who gets in the building at night would hear him say ‘where’. Then there is Song and Pete, who aim to call out the ghost in the library that appears when you scream as loud as you can whenever the library is empty, slushing around with one hand across its supposedly hideous face. And last but not least is May and Cream, who head for the old music room at night and blow nine specific notes on a flute in the hopes of summoning the ghost of a former schoolmate cum band member called Pawadee.
Misfortune will befall one member of each respective pair during the course of that fateful night, which their soft-spoken loyal band leader Ohm and his girlfriend Pun will join forces to unravel. Pun is the one who gets to enlighten the rest about the nature of spirits, i.e. that they are mysterious forces created out of fear and people’s beliefs, as well as that of ghost stories, i.e. that they are distortions from the truth which become even more distorted the more that they are told. It is Pun who will lead the rest to find out more about the ghosts which now plague them, with the hope that their quest for truth will allow such spirits to find closure and reconciliation.
To director Pass Patthanakumjon’s credit, there is enough character work done to establish each one of the teenagers in their pairs – Top resents the fact that Net had taken his favourite position in the band and makes him a laughing stock outside of it; May is even more resentful of the fact that Cream has been dating the guy whom she has had a crush on for the longest time, so she decides to take the opportunity to exact sweet revenge on the latter; and last but not least, a couple of late-act twists adds several dimensions to Ohm and Pun, giving them more depth than as the ones explaining to us what is going on and how to interpret those events.
It isn’t surprising that each one of the ghosts has unfulfilled purpose which forms the reason for his or her lingering presence – be it something tangible or intangible that he or she was looking for before he or she died or an inability to let go of the hate and bitterness over the circumstances that led to his or death – and that unravelling the mystery behind their past is part of what the narrative is constructed on. But more than the decently established intrigue, Patthanakumjon extracts pathos from these subplots centred around bullying, social isolation and even simply schoolyard gossip; indeed, more than one of us has been guilty of perpetuating such acts actively or passively, and what resonates is how potentially devastating they may be for the individuals involved, students and staff alike.
Truth be told, ‘School Tales’ never does reach the heights of iconic Thai horrors like ‘Shutter’ and ‘Alone’ – not just because it doesn’t boast as original or inventive a premise as they did, but also because the sequences themselves do not have much by way of build-up and therefore payoff to truly take your breath away. Notwithstanding, those who have seen ‘Dark Flight’, ‘3AM’ and/or ‘Ghost Ship’ will know that the associations with these previous entries immediately sets a different bar for ‘School Tales’ (and by that, we mean one which starts at the bottom). Contrary to such expectations though, it is a whole lot more coherent than its predecessors, and certainly more engaging thanks to sufficiently built rapport among the characters and generally brisk pacing throughout.
If you are among the paradoxical who tend to be scared easily and yet like the adrenaline that comes from being scared, you’ll find ‘School Tales’ has just the right mix of mystery and horror without the latter ever feeling overwhelming; otherwise, die-hard horror fans will probably find this a genre exercise that is passable but ultimately unremarkable.
(Better than you’re probably expecting this entry from the producers of ‘Dark Flight’ and ‘3AM’ to be, ‘School Tales’ has enough intrigue, occasional thrills and some unexpected pathos to keep you engaged throughout)
Review by Gabriel Chong