4bia brings together four of the best-known directors in Thailand, including the makers of Body 19, Shutter and Alone. Each of the four stories is connected by the notion of fear; the fear of being alone, the fear of reprisal, the fear of ghosts and the fear of the dead. Each tale clocks in at just under 30 minutes with varying degrees of success. It’s also worth checking out the follow up, a titillating sequel that surpasses the original in almost every way.
First out the blocks is Happiness, directed by Yongyoot Thongkongtoon (Iron Ladies). Happiness introduces us to a girl with a broken leg, alone in her apartment with a mobile phone for company. A mysterious stranger sends her a random text message and, though cautious at first, boredom gives way to curiosity and events take a turn for the worse. One girl, one apartment, one phone, that’s pretty much all there is to it, but it’s astonishing just how sinister an alert tone can be when you’re alone in the dark. ‘Happiness’ is a slow, deliberate tease from start to finish that culminates in a well-crafted pay off. One down, three to go.
Where as Happiness immersed itself in sounds of silence, Tit For Tat takes the opposite approach, a truly bombastic affair with music video credentials. Paween Purijitpanya (Body 19) tells the tale of a young boy out for revenge after placing a curse on the classmates that bullied him. Dropping the drip feed of terror of Happiness, Tit For Tat comes on like the latest entry in the Final Destination series. Tit For Tat is relentless, bloody and loud, making it clear that the producers of 4bia are hoping to revisit every horror cliché in one fell swoop. Even the dodgy effects are on hand to enhance the appeal of my favourite chapter.
In The Middle throws comedy into the mix when four friends go camping in the woods. Sly references to modern classics like Shutter, Ringu and The Sixth Sense are a nice touch, but they also remind you of much better movies. Take the glass half full approach and you may welcome the change of pace. In The Middle sure takes its time though, and when it does reach its lightweight conclusion there’s a faint whiff of familiarity; there’s even a joke to be made at the films expense (amusing though it is). The characters are likeable enough, but for me the lighthearted banter and lack of true thrills merely weathered the storm until part four.
Last Fright takes us above the clouds and beyond the grave with a pretty air stewardess, an eastern princess and a regretful affair. Not forgetting a vengeful corpse back to inflict bloody retribution. Director Parkpoom Wongpoom (the other guy from Shutter) serves up the most traditional Asian horror story of all, slow out the blocks but well executed all the same. The big pay off may not be as memorable as it should be, but that’s only because Last Fright is too familiar a tale in this day and age.
So there you have it, an entertaining mix but a mixed bag none the less. It’s a shame that the first half of the movie promises more than the completed picture delivers, especially considering the talent behind In The Middle and Last Fright. Worse than that, 4bia feels like four short stories thrown together for the sake of making a movie. It would have been so much more fulfilling had the producers connected the films in some way. Take the ending for example; Last Fright brings the entire production to a shuddering halt with a sudden denouement. I was hoping for a little bit more, something to tie the preceding chapters to it, to make the film seem more complete.
4bia is less than a sum of its parts but it does deliver plenty of chills, thrills and laughter (well, the occasional snigger). The second installment however, makes for a more satisfying whole. AW