The Unseeable

The Unseeable is the first film by Wisit Sasanatieng that was not written by him, but by Kongkiat Khomsiri, a member of the Ronin Team (Art of the Devil 2). This fact takes some of the weight away from the fact that in 1999 Sasanatieng wrote the screenplay for one of the best ghost stories in recent Thai cinematic history, Nang Nak by Nonzee Nimibutr; however, a parallel can still be perceived between that film and The Unseeable, the first horror film from the director of Tears of the Black Tiger. A horror film made on a limited budget, but one that is sumptuous and convincing, which reprises the classic theme of the “haunted house” with ingenious extremism.

The accumulation of horrors, which at first seem like a collection of scattered thrills, in the end will come together to form a very coherent picture, full of that melodrama which the horror genre always contains.This passion for melodrama, this love for vintage settings as well as for the cinema of Rattana Pestonij (the “father of Thai cinema”, whose Country Hotel is cited in the bar scene), is pure Sasanatieng.

The Unseeable also pays homage to the atmosphere and graphic style of the Thai pulp illustrator Hem Vejakorn (1904-1969) - so much so, that the director came across some trouble with Vejakorn’s copyright holders.
It is the early 1930s. A pregnant Nualjan exhaustedly wanders around searching for her husband Chob, who has left “for a few days” never to be seen again. The sour housekeeper Miss Somjit allows her to stay in Madame Ranjuan's villa. The latter is a beautiful widow who lives as a recluse after the death of her husband. It is a house full of whispers and sighs, as well as unclear visions, amplified by a gloriously ominous music.

It is immediately obvious that we are in ghost territory (and of the gut-sucking vampire, who - like the krasue, recently seen in Yuthlert Sippapak’s  Ghost of Valentine - loves to feed on the entrails of newborn babies). But who is the ghost? The unseeable world surrounds us; nothing is as it seems - not even the coarse maid Choy, a character that seemed destined to exhaust its role in the traditional function of comic relief.

The tale – which hides some unexpected moments of ribald humour – displays an excellent use of sound. When for Nualjan's benefit Choy provides a very funny parody of the typical horror tirade (“Ghosts do exist!”) just delivered by Miss Somjit, we hear her sardonically lugubrious voice, in voice-over, as the spectral child steps into the house, in a nice little short-circuit between the visual and the two meanings of sound.

Right from the vaguely unsettling play of editing in the opening on the street, cinematography and editing conspire to create an illusory and deceiving world, one subtly painful, made of ambiguous and evasive perceptions. One characteristic of this film is its reluctance to show the face of a character when it is first introduced: due to distance, to a delayed reversed angle, to transparent curtains like the ones that transform Madame’s bedroom into an impalpable, blurred labyrinth, to the choice of short shots or shots from behind... The most evident case is that of the husband, whose face we do not see, either early on in the flashbacks or later in the meeting in the pavilion: and this choice is not a necessary one for the unfolding of the story, for possible upcoming twists in the tale, but rather it is part of the “phantasmatic” strategy of the entire film.

The empty glance of a “living” camera wanders about the rooms and the garden; from above, it spies on the girl giving birth from an unreal angle; it creates unnatural subjective shots, like the leafy branches of the trees filmed from below when Nualjan goes to meet Madame. In the garden, when Miss Somjit tells Nualjan of the widow’s grief, a deceptive and bewitched travelling shot brings us from the flashback regarding Madame Ranjuan to the present day, without continuity – appropriately for a place where time turns around itself in sad loops.

Giorgio Placereani
Film Director: Wisit Sasanatieng
Year: 2006
Running time: 97'
Country: Thailand