Sunday, November 04, 2018

Buffalo Dreams Fantastic ’18: Eullenia

Marcus Hammond is the Monte Hall or Howie Mandell of serial killers, but he always offers his victims the same deal: their life willingly exchanged for a desperately needed sum to be provided to their loved one. Admittedly, he is not a very sporting serial killer. He’s no Count Zaroff, that’s for sure. He preys on hopelessness, but karma might just come back around for him in Paul Spurrier’s Eullenia (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival.

Hammond notices the little people. That is a great trait to find in a micro-finance tycoon, but not so hot for serial killer. He happens to be both. As the chairman and guru-in-chief of the Eullenia Group, he has enough money and clout to buy as many corrupt cops and public officials as he might need in Thailand, but his manservant-accomplice Boo (sort of an evil Alfred Pennyworth) is still scrupulously careful. Nam is the first victim we see dispatched in the film, but it is clear there were many more before her. Her death follows step-by-step according to Hammond’s plan, except perhaps for the note she leaves for her beloved sister—the one who needs money for chemotherapy.

In the second act, poor Em does not fully realize what she is dealing with, but Boo will make the terms crystal clear. However, there is something very different about Lek. She seems to be stalking Hammond more than he is stalking her. Viewers will probably guess her motives (no surprise, it involves revenge), but she and Spurrier still have some twists in store for the audience.

Apparently, Eullenia was originally produced as a six-episode limited series, mostly in English to cater to the foreign market. Presumably, many of the edits to accommodate this 129-minute feature-festival cut came from Em’s storyline. Regardless, the version that will screen in Buffalo (or rather Williamsville right outside) is quite grabby, thanks in large measure to the terrific cast.

Vithaya Pansringarm has become the international face of Thai cinema, with good reason. This could very well be his best work in an unambiguously villainous role (that of Boo), precisely because it is so subtly turned. As Hammond, Alec Newman manages to create a whole new variation on the monstrous serial killer: the benevolent philanthropist who takes his life-altering power to dark extremes. You could just as easily compare him to Warren Buffet (and his weird obsession with over-population) as any other movie serial killer.

Newcomer Aomkham Kamonrattanan is also dynamite as Lek. She keeps us guessing and makes us care. Likewise, Apicha Suyanandana is absolutely heartbreaking as Nam. Krittima Chockchal’s appearances as Em do indeed feel abbreviated, but thesp-director Manasanun Phanlerdwongsakul has a very effective cameo as a financial journalist who brings out Hammond’s craziness.

Spurrier is now an expat filmmaker based in Thailand, but he was once a child actor, best known for playing Richard Harris’s son in The Wild Geese. There is a bit of irony that he would introduce to the world the ultimate predatory expat, but his sympathies are always with the marginalized and his skepticism obviously falls on their supposed benefactors. Yet, the film cuts deeper than mere class warfare. After all, Hammond was once a striving lower middle class kid who made good. There is something fundamentally broken in him that has been accentuated and exacerbated by all his laudatory press as a Lord Bountiful. It is a pretty twisted film, but it is definitely compelling stuff. Enthusiastically recommended for fans of serial killer thrillers (slightly horror-ish, but light on blood and gore), Eullenia screens this Thursday (11/8), as part of this year’s Buffalo Dreams Fantastic.