Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Blue Hour: a Thai Psycho-Sexual-Supernatural Drama

Any film that commingles sexuality and the supernatural cries out for Neo-Freudian analysis. This is often generally true of Thai cinema and particularly so in the case of Anucha Boonyawatana’s first film to break the hour mark. A bullied gay teen will find the lover he yearned for, but he will also encounter paranormal dread during their assignations in Boonyawatana’s The Blue Hour (trailer here), which is now available on DVD and VOD from Strand Releasing.

Tam is regularly beaten at school and his insensitive mother asks him to fake straight to make things less awkward around the house. Hope arrives in the form of Phum, an internet hook-up that quickly turns serious. Phum is slightly older, considerably stronger, and much more experienced than Tam. Nonetheless, they seem to fit together. However, Phum’s preferred rendezvous spot is not exactly romantic. Considering the brackish water and evil looking mold spores, the abandoned public swimming pool might be a legitimate health hazard, but at least the furtive lovers will not be disturbed there—at least not by anything mortal.

According to rumor, the pool is haunted by ghosts. Supposedly, the spirits dump missing bodies there once they have finished their sinister business with the victims. The more time Tam and Phum spend there, the more credence they give to such urban legends. However, Phum’s other choice for quality alone time is probably even more dangerous. That would be the mob-run landfill that also has its share of corpse dumping.

Of course, how much of Blue Hour is real and how much has been distorted by Tam’s warped perception of reality is the key question Boonyawatana leaves open throughout the film. Regardless, the mounting sense of menace is definitely based on something. While not consistently scary enough to be considered a horror film proper, it is still pretty darn creepy at times. That shunned swimming pool is a particularly evocative location. It just radiates bad vibes.

The youthful and frequently shirtless Atthaphan Poonsawas and Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang are also terrific as the repressed Tam and cocky Phum. They develop some realistically complicated romantic chemistry together and act convincingly freaked out when appropriate. There are other supporting characters washing in and out, but the film is essentially a two-hander. Happily, they hold up to the scrutiny quite well.

Blue Hour certainly addresses sexuality rather openly, but the latter half is so dominated by its nocturnal mysteries, it really should not be pigeon-holed solely as a LGBT programmer. Arguably, there are enough uncanny goings-on to keep genre fans focused. The mildness of its mostly implied sexual content also makes it far more accessible to a broad potential audience.

Boonyawatana leaves some things frustratingly ambiguous, but his control of the moody atmosphere is quite masterful. Cinematographers Chaiyapreuk Chalerpornpanit and Kamolpan Ngiwtong also duly capture the eerie twilight glow promised by the title. Recommended for discerning viewers of supernatural drama, The Blue Hour releases today (3/8) on regular DVD and digital platforms, including iTunes.