DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TIFF 2009: Nymph

Sunday, 13 September 2009

TIFF 2009: Nymph

Nymph (2009) dir. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Starring: Jayanama Nopachai, Wanida Termthanaporn, Chamanun Wanwinwatsara


If Terrence Malick made a horror film this would probably be it - a moody Thai nature creeper about a metaphysical connection between a haunted forest and our human frailties - a film which teases us with traditional genre scare tactics but ultimately delivers only on it’s artistic and, thus, frustrating oblique tendencies.

Director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang tells us what kind of film we’re in for with his grandiose long take opening shot. He puts us in a Thai forest following a young girl pursued and ultimately raped by two young boys. The camera, which at first appears to be an observer, wanders through the forest with a human point of view, but when it cranes up into the air looking down on the two rapists now dead in a river we know there’s something ghostly at play. The shot lasts minutes and establishes a slow, languid pace and moody voyeuristic tone which becomes the language of the film.

Our hero is young May (Wanida Termthanaporn), a journalist who lives with her husband Nop (Jayanama Nopachai), a still photographer. Their ‘vacation’ happens to be that really creepy spirit-inhabited forest. Their vacation involves camping and walking around admiring the surreal architecture of the trees. Nop seems especially obsessed with one particular tree, a snaking Dali-like piece of organic art. Before long Nop disappears, leaving May alone in the jungle. Where did he go? Possessed by the forest? Why?

We’re appear to be in the cinema of minimalism here with very little happening in between the two or three distinct story beats, and so the picture pushes our patience to the max.

It’s all ambient noises and wandering camera moves until the 30mins mark when Nop is abducted. Ratanaruang doesn’t tell us much but when he reveals May’s extramarital affair with her boss, the film finally gives us some explanation to the near 45mins of obtuse build up. The pacing is so deliberate creating a strong sense of cerebral dread we desperately want the film to pay off and shock us into submission.

In a film festival like this there’s a point when we have to make a decision to stay or leave a film, especially when there’s 2 or 3 other films you could be seeing. The spirit of the forest, whether that’s Nymph or not, compels you to stay, the same spirit which entrances Nop slowly seeps into the audience. Ratanaruang does it all with sound, it’s a remarkable and complex design, echoing that Malick’s moodiness and David Lynch/Alan Splet’s horrific noises. The sounds of the jungle merge with the artificial ambient music and other weird ingredients, which blankets the entire film.

Visually, it’s mostly observational handheld work with a smattering of formal compositions. Ratanaruang manages to craft a number of impressive suspenseful moments, the most terrifying being the nighttime forest scenes which bring to mind the terror of darkness and absence of life which made ‘The Blair Witch Project’ so effective.

Unfortunately Ratanaruang keeps it all much to obtuse to make it a truly satisfying picture. The mixture of art and horror leaves us worn and torn and wanting more.

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