Director: Wisit Sasanatieng
Cast: Jannine Weigel, Pongsakorn Tosuwan, Kara Polasit, Sa-Ard Piempongsan
Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins
Rating: PG13 (Disturbing Scenes)
Released By: Encore Films and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 18 February 2016
Synopsis: The newest enrollee at a convent boarding school, the aloof Mon (Jannine Weigel) becomes the laughing stock when her classmates catch her sniffing at various objects all the time. What they do not know is that Mon actually possesses a paranormal power that allows her to smell the scent of spirits. One night in the girls’ toilet, Mon encounters a mysterious ghostly being, who calls himself Senior (Pongsakorn Tosuwan), and is roped into his investigation of a brutal murder that happened 50 years ago. Along the way, the unlikely detective duo runs into both human and supernatural forces that attempt to obstruct them from the truth. On the other hand, who is the mysterious Senior? Will Mon live to find out?
‘Senior’ may bear the hallmarks of a typical Thai horror, but writer/ director Wisit Sasanatieng’s latest entry to the genre after almost a decade’s hiatus is really much more.
Not content to simply follow the rules of the playbook, Sasanatieng invents his own in telling the story of an unlikely friendship between a high school girl Mon (Jannine Weigel) and the ghost of a male student Senior (Pongsakorn Tosuwan) who team up to solve the murder of a princess half a century ago.
Instead of being able to see them, Mon sniffs ghosts out, a gift she acquires after surviving a car accident that killed both her parents at the age of four. In the same way, instead of given carte blanche to walk through walls, Senior can only navigate his surroundings based on how it was before he died, which also means that he can only walk through walls that were never there when he was alive.
Before you dismiss these unconventional rules of engagement as mere gimmicks, Sasanatieng actually makes them work in the context of his story. Indeed, these rules form the very raison d’etre of the odd-couple pairing – to solve the mystery of the princess’ murderer as well as that of his own, Senior needs someone who can reach into the spiritual realm and physically go to places that he cannot enter.
In fact, Sasanatieng puts these operating principles to good effect in building up tension throughout the movie. Mon’s paranormal olfactory ability literally helps her ‘sniff’ out danger, whether is it the presence of an unfamiliar spirit or the distinct scent of hatred in a spirit out for revenge. Senior’s inability to go to certain places also heightens the sense of danger that we feel whenever Mon has to go off exploring some place on her own, such as the new areas in her convent school compound that weren’t accessible before.
And as much as you’d like to think that you’ve seen or read enough of such mysteries to know just who the real killer is, we’d advise that you hold these assumptions and let the clues speak for themselves. Not unlike a procedural, Mon and Senior’s investigation of the key figures close to the princess – including her physician Dr Saner, her lawyer Mr Praphan and her secretary Ms Woranart – finds each with a number of dirty secrets to hide and therefore probable cause. Quite rarely does a film manage to keep up a sense of intrigue from start to finish, but Sasanatieng comes real close to accomplishing that.
It is also to Sasanatieng’s credit that these scenes have a distinct sense of past and present, metaphysical and physical. There is a certain rhythm by which Sasanatieng establishes how each of these co-exist alongside each other on the screen – beginning with the physical present that is Mon’s immediate surroundings, followed by the metaphysical realm where the spirits dwell, and then the past where previous events remain frozen at a certain point in time. One particularly effective sequence sees Mon and Senior split up to search for clues in different sections of the former palace library, right before the former picks up the whiff of a particularly malevolent spirit in her presence and is strangled from the back.
Besides being a good old-fashioned murder mystery, ‘Senior’ also tries to be a contemporary teen romance as well as a schoolgirl drama at the same time, though not quite so successfully. Weigel and Tosuwan share a sweet down-to-earth chemistry as Mon and Senior, but that is not nearly enough to convince us that Senior would fall in love with Mon – or for that matter, be entangled in a love triangle with Mon’s overeager doctor friend. Ditto for the tragedy that befalls Mon’s only close friend at school, Ant (Kaykai Nutticha Namwong), after she is spurned by the lecherous male chemistry teacher on whom she has a huge crush on.
Perhaps it was a little too ambitious of Sasanatieng to try to make a film that is thrilling, sweet, funny and poignant at the same time, and the uneven tonal shifts within the two-hour running time is testament to that; yet, aside from the unnecessarily distracting subplots, ‘Senior’ is a well-constructed mystery thriller that keeps you guessing right till the very end. As a ghost movie, it is also one of the rare ones that cleverly plays with convention and doesn’t simply embrace cliché – and by extension, it will probably be one of the better Thai horrors you’ll see in a long while.
(Good old-fashioned murder mystery that also puts a clever twist on the usual - and by now, tired - rules of the 'ghost movie' playbook)
Review by Gabriel Chong