How to Watch a Thai Ghost Movie
November 1, 2018 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Imagine watching the Exorcist without any understanding of Satan or Catholic rites.
In Western horror, the vulnerable characters—the virginal women in slashers or children in paranormal flicks—are often in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Thai horror movies are often driven by an idea of karmic justice: you reap what you sow, and the consequences of your intentions (Sanskrit, cetana) can unleash paranormal punishments. Novice explicitly introduces these Buddhist themes, which the remaining four films explore further.
A review in Tricycle magazine of the Thai horror movie Novice, which is part of the five-part Phobia 2 series of films (currently available on Netflix).
posted by Lexica (23 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nice article.
I would argue that a lot of the western tropes (the blonde in the wrong place at the wrong time) are uuuuusually thinly veiled morality plays on Christian notions of sin, though: people start getting offed once they split up and start making out...

There's a stronger argument that the Lovecraftian/Cosmic Horror strain (eg, Alien) is much more a wrong place/wrong time kind of horror... with the implicit notion that there's really no right place, and we're just lucky enough not to be aware of it.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:07 PM on November 1, 2018 [6 favorites]


My introduction to Thai ghosts was Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives...
posted by jim in austin at 4:22 PM on November 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


I can imagine this because I wasn't raised Catholic and I've never understood the hype surrounding The Exorcist. Like, it's not even a little bit scary. Watching it feels like watching a sequel to a film you've never seen, but all the scariness depends on your having seen the original.
posted by saladin at 4:46 PM on November 1, 2018 [13 favorites]


Having lived for some time in a nominally Buddhist country (and being married to a nominally Buddhist woman) I think it's important to note that, just like in Canada or the US, Thai audiences may not be thinking of the moral logic behind horror movies. Abstract concepts like cetana may not be articulated and discussed for various reasons by regular folks or laity.
posted by JamesBay at 5:00 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Like, it's not even a little bit scary.

I grew up in a secular blue-collar household in suburban Canada in the 1970s and early 80s. I definitely found stuff like the Exorcist and Amityville Horror scary. I was worried for a while that my younger sister was never baptised (we're nominally Lutherans on my mother's side, but I've never set foot in a Lutheran church).
posted by JamesBay at 5:02 PM on November 1, 2018


I would argue that a lot of the western tropes (the blonde in the wrong place at the wrong time) are uuuuusually thinly veiled morality plays on Christian notions of sin, though: people start getting offed once they split up and start making out...

Yeppers. Of course, a lot of this comes from imitators of Halloween (in which Laurie Strode was a virgin as a believable incidental aspect of all of her other qualities, which added up to a resourceful and responsible teenage girl) remembering "the virgin lives!" but not building actual characters around that. Then it only took like 18 years to get Scream throwing that trope out the window with great force, and another couple years for Buffy to explore first sex and emotional vulnerability through a much more helpful lens in a horror setting.

As for Catholic rites, I have to imagine a non-negligable portion of the western world first learned about them via The Exorcist anyway.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:07 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


The thing that I always think about, honestly, is the thin line between a ghost and a shampoo model here in Asia
posted by cendawanita at 6:17 PM on November 1, 2018 [7 favorites]


Not finding 'The Exorcist' (1973 film) scary is a funny generational divide.
Kids these days don't even know how to be scared anymore.
posted by ovvl at 6:40 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Millennials are killing scary movies now too? Dang, what can't they destroy!
posted by sotonohito at 7:53 PM on November 1, 2018 [5 favorites]


Freddy and Jason, probably. Those guys are eternal.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:05 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


eh, ovvl - i was a kid when Exorcist came out, DEFINITELY not a millenial. and i did not find it scary. creepy and disturbing, yes - but not scary. not like Alien, which totally scared the heck outta me! (saw them about the same time - i was too young when Exorcist was first in theaters.) not raised Catholic or even christian... may have something to do with it? even now, i find supernatural horror based on christianity kinda boring.
posted by lapolla at 8:49 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


So if we take as given that horror movies have these moralistic underpinnings, why does the person who goes to take a bathroom break (at least in Western horror) always get the shaft? What's the message there?? And is it a cross-cultural phenomenon?
posted by invitapriore at 9:02 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


My introduction to Thai ghosts was Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives...

Mine, too. I haven't watched the Phobia 2 series yet but based on the article, I do wonder how much emotional resemblance they bear to Apichatpong Weerasethakul's films.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:15 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Thank you!! I'm buddhist so I will watch these and then read the breakdown. What a treat. I don't see this stuff often - big examples are of course the Matix (emptiness) and The good place (karma and rebirth).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:25 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I can imagine this because I wasn't raised Catholic and I've never understood the hype surrounding The Exorcist. Like, it's not even a little bit scary.

I was raised Catholic and I feel the same way. I also found most "classic" American horror like The Shining and Rosemary's Baby cheesy rather than scary. I haven't seen this Thai movie but I've seen others and I did find them pretty much as described in the article. The Ring left me cold. As an Irish Catholic my cultural horror movie trigger lies in the "poorly thought out deal with supernatural being" style of story. Especially if it is an exceptional individual driven to dealing with someone jealous of them by trickery and the whole poorly thought out deal leads to a family curse or takes down a while town of unrelated people or something good like that. Wake Wood is an excellent example of what I find creepy af. Johnathon Strange and Mr Norrell is a classic Irish horror story but set in England.
posted by fshgrl at 11:06 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


My 10yo just watched Coraline; he did not sleep a wink the night after. So don't believe your kids when they say they're not scared of any movies or such. (Coraline is not even scary, it's more on the just creepy side, if you ask me).
posted by Harald74 at 4:40 AM on November 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


I get scared easily at horror movies, missed out on a lot of Catholic mythology as a non-catholic, and just found the Exorcist to be weirdly misogynistic and full of bad effects. It wasn't scary, and also wasn't interesting.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:10 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the article. I'm pleased and a bit delighted to see Tricycle take on the the subject. Back when I regularly read the magazine they didn't tend to so much along this line. That was a long while past though, so I really should take another look.

The notion informing the article is an interesting one. As someone who's watched a lot of movies from all over the world, I have slightly mixed feelings about the way the central assumption is stated. While I don't have any doubt that context can improve understanding of movies from other cultures, and the kind of context provided by the article is of that sort, I think perhaps the author overstates the importance of it somewhat in that most movies provide enough context for the viewer to at least understand the core issues and get a feel for their importance.

There are many things, for example, in US movies that have been popular around the world that reference things tied to US culture that aren't just the most obvious elements of it, but those things aren't the focus of the movies and largely can't be as they don't carry enough purpose in themselves to be both implicit and necessary to understand the movie if you give yourself over to it instead of trying to impose your context on it.

That, at least, has been the case for the movies I've watched that are coming from cultures different than mine. I don't assume I "get" everything as a native to the culture would, but it is exceptionally rare that the movie doesn't provide enough context to figure out relationships between people, places, groups, and ideas as long as one has some general knowledge of the world. (Which I know isn't something everyone does have.)

That is in fact one of the beautiful things about art, it can provide connection to the lives of others by stressing things of importance that aren't necessarily shared in day to day life. To give yourself over to the work and allow it to impress a new perspectives on you is what makes the works powerful.

I would hate for people to think they couldn't get something from, for example, an Apichatpong Weerasethakul movie just because it's coming from a different culture. He's one of the greatest filmmakers alive, singular in his methods, making movies about his culture, but opening that culture to those who watch his films by providing a sense of the world as he sees it. I wouldn't trade his "alien" movies for a truckload of my "native" ones. That isn't to say I'm not appreciative for added context like the article provides, just that suggesting that sort of thing is a necessity for appreciation is losing as much as any context could gain.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:32 AM on November 2, 2018


For the record I found Coraline horrifying. It's the buttons on the eyes, gyyyyah
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:44 AM on November 2, 2018


And that jazz scene in the garden, something about the beat makes my stomach feel dread
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:46 AM on November 2, 2018


The scene with the girl crawling backwards down the stairs was a jolt, but otherwise I'm with lapolla in terms of finding the Exorcist more creepy/(kinda) disturbing (if perhaps not always for the reasons the filmmakers intended) than scary.

Of course I saw the Bunnies Theatre version before I saw the original so maybe that toned down the "scariness" for me. Or maybe not.
posted by gtrwolf at 6:27 PM on November 3, 2018


The notion informing the article is an interesting one. As someone who's watched a lot of movies from all over the world, I have slightly mixed feelings about the way the central assumption is stated. While I don't have any doubt that context can improve understanding of movies from other cultures, and the kind of context provided by the article is of that sort, I think perhaps the author overstates the importance of it somewhat in that most movies provide enough context for the viewer to at least understand the core issues and get a feel for their importance.

I think it's less about understanding other cultures and more about horror movies hitting that real visceral terror button in people. And as the audience for horror movies is adolescents and young adults it makes sense that the most effective ones tap into those childhood fears, the ghost stories you heard from trusted figures when you were young and naive enough to believe them. A horror story from another culture, with different ghost stories will have a harder time short-cutting into that primitive part of your brain to scare the pants off you.

As adults people find fear in stories about serial killers and the breakdown of society, not ghosts usually. Although sometimes a good horror movie will hit: I spend a LOT of time in the field and outdoors and Blair Witch did it for a lot of my colleagues. Something dragging you out of your tent and eating you has been a legitimate concern for most of us at some point and the idea of a haunted GPS leading you further astray? well explains a lot actually.
posted by fshgrl at 11:36 AM on November 4, 2018


I think it's less about understanding other cultures and more about horror movies hitting that real visceral terror button in people.

This is a good point and does speak to the value of the article. I wouldn't argue at all with the importance of "feel" in appreciation, just that opening oneself to wider experience than one's own can allow that "feel" to transcend much of our individual immediate experience which is how movies and art work. It isn't that the article isn't good so much as a concern over taking it too literally as defining a experiential understanding.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:08 PM on November 4, 2018


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