When he directed art cinema, the world of realism was identified with sarcasm and fantasy (see Ten Years Thailand review). But when he creates an imaginative universe of spirits, the genre often interplays with verism. What happens to Wisit Sasanatieng’s seventh feature Reside is this paradox of art and genre, human and non-human, realism and unrealism. Sasanatieng pushes the paradise of spook into a new and extreme ritual of horror by creating the “arts of being ghost.” Hauntings and possessions become the happenings of performance arts.
In a remote isolated mansion known as Infinity Spiritual Center, the lady owner, called by her disciplines – two men and three women – as “the mother,” are gathering and chanting to wake up a mysterious body. Upon the ritual, a family of wandering ghosts, consisting of a couple and their daughter, take the invitation card instead. Then starts the game of exorcism. Even the strongest and most experienced mother is taken over. (In fact, she is possessed since the beginning of the film and locked into her room). They never know who is going to be the next victim. Suddenly, the house-owner’s son Dech shows up. He seems to be the only one who can manage the situations. Along with this cat-and-mouse game walk the secrets of virtue and viciousness behind all of the characters. Perhaps, like Prang, Dech’s ex-girlfriend, says in one scene, “what’s scarier than the ghost is the human.”
What is quite exciting in Sasanatieng’s seventh work is not about a stream of duality in the same movie, but it is his creation of a new style of horror. Despite some influences by other directors or Thai spiritual creators in his earlier works, Sasanatieng goes on his way this time by using a shape of tree as a model of the spirits. Well, we cannot deny that in Thai belief, a female ghost also resides in a tree, normally appearing as a beautiful one in the old royal costume. Actually, she is the protector of tree and environment. In Reside, the tree ghosts come as a family. Whenever they show up, their body movements signify their origin. Gone now for the creepy crawling of Japanese or Korean ghosts, but the artistic twists and dances of limbo. All of famous Thai stars move their bodies like performance artists, whenever they are possessed, aside their facial expressions in keeping the secrets behind.
The marvelous thing is that the director’s design does not go only with the body movement and performance, but also languages. The ghosts also cheek-chuk with a strange language, sounding like Cambodian, or Thai primitive. Above at all level, director Sasanatieng supports this new “art of being ghost” through the superb and delicate design of mise-en-scene and sound. Instead of the set-up of disgusting environment, the arts direction is planned to glorify the beauty of ghost, but the ugliness of human. In the same way, the sound is used to symbolize the appearance of ghost, focalizing the strangeness of these supernatural beings. At the end, Reside wants to leave to us is the arts of bodily and verbally ghosts, that striding above all previous horror. Being a ghost is not an easy task where any special effect become unnecessary.