Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Folklore: Pob

Ghosts are as important to Thai culture as Buddhism and Muay Thai. Logically, the former frequently plays a role in the nation’s ghost stories. Fittingly, the Thai installment of HBO Asia’s anthology of stories inspired by national supernatural myths and urban legends focuses on a ravenous ghost. Much to his frustration, the spirit’s haunting will become unusually complicated in Folklore: Pob, directed by Thai auteur Pen-ek Ratanaruang, which screens this Friday in DC, as part of the Sackler/Freer’s Thai Buddhist Ghost Stories film series.

Manop is a crime blogger for a news site that apparently does not pay well. He cannot afford to get his car out of the shop and he is behind on his ailing mother’s hospital bills. However, opportunity might be calling when he arrives at the scene of a newly arrived American PR executive’s grisly murder. Much to his surprise and trepidation, Mena the ghost (or pob) offers to explain how John Conrad met his gory demise (Conrad—nice touch, right?).

Presumably, the Pob is responsible, because he is a pob. Yet, initially Conrad throws him off his ghostly game. In fact, the garrulous American does not recognize Mena is a supernatural entity when he awakens, so he offers the spirit a beer and a sandwich. As the night progresses, Conrad pulls Mena into more Earthly misadventures, which causes the pob to start losing his ghostliness.

The opening and closing of Pob are creepily atmospheric, but most of the guts in the middle are quite droll, in a pitch black humor sort of way. As director and screenwriter, Ratanaruang (a.k.a. Tom Pannet, known for Headshot), offers up some sly commentary on East vs. West culture clashes that mostly avoids the typical shopworn clichés. Plus, Chankij Chamnivikaipong’s black-and-white cinematography is eerily stylish.

Thomas Burton van Blarcom is enormously amusing as Conrad, but he still comes across as a believably human character. On the other side of the ledger, Parama Wutthikornitsakul looks truly evil and emaciated as Mena the pob. Credit is also due to Sarawut Sakthamcharoen’s makeup, which should well please horror fans.

Pob is such a clever and macabre tale, it makes us hope the entire Folklore series will get more play in North America. With its talk of amulets and the protective power of the former residents’ Buddha statue, Pob definitely fits the Sackler/Freer’s theme. Highly recommended for fans of Thai horror and horror anthologies (especially since its free), Folklore: Pob screens this Friday (10/18) in the Meyer Auditorium.