Thai horror anthology Phobia (a.k.a. 4bia) was a big hit in 2008, proving that there’s plenty of life (or should that be death?) in the tired Asian horror genre. The sequel arrived a year later, shattering Thailand's box-office records in the process. The follow-up offers five chilling shorts, not four. Now there’s a twist. Which means, among other things, that the playful title is redundant this time around. Paween Purijitpanya (Body), Parkpoom Wongpoom (Shutter) and Banjong Pisanthanakun (Alone) return to helm a segment each, alongside Songyos Sugmakanan (Dorm) and veteran producer Wisoot Poolvoralaks (Nang-Nak), who take charge of the remaining two chapters.
Phobia 2 opens with Novice, in which we find a young boy has gone into hiding at a Buddhist monastery, where his attempts to evade the law take a deadly turn when his criminal past comes back to haunt him. Paween Purijitpanya’s second entry in the Phobia franchise proves to be a change of pace from his first; Novice is a restrained affair, quite the opposite of Tit For Tat in every conceivable way. With Novice, Purijitpanya makes the most of an eerie forest setting, cranking up the tension with considerable ease. It’s a straightforward premise, but Purijitpanya gets the ball rolling with a well-orchestrated horror story that bodes well for the rest of the movie.
Whereas most people considered Tit For Tat to be the worst of the original shorts, I found it to be the sprightliest. Novice on the other hand, is one of the weaker efforts in part two, quite the compliment when all is said and done. As manipulative as it is, I still found it less involving than the other instalments.
In Ward, a young man spends the night in a hospital with an old man in a coma. Poolvoralaks takes the reigns on the second chapter, delivering not only the shortest of the five segments, but probably the most lightweight. There is a neat development at the end, but upon reflection it appears quite obvious. However, Ward does offer up a welcome dose of short sharp shocks, and paves the way for my favourite chapter in the movie. Welcome to Backpackers, in which we find a couple of Japanese teenagers hitchhiking in Thailand. A truck driver pulls over to offer them a lift, but as with any horror movie involving hitchhikers, events take a terrifying turn for the worse.
We’re talking unexpected detours down the highway to hell in this one. Songyos Sugmakanan, like Paween Purijitpanya before him, finds himself in unfamiliar terrain with this take on the zombie sub-genre. His hit movie Dorm was a well-orchestrated drip feed of terror, more akin to Purijitpanya’s work on Novice. Backpackers is a more vibrant affair, fast paced and in your face scary. The premise is a doozy, and the twists keep on coming thick and fast. I really enjoyed this segment. Every good horror anthology should have one.
In Salvage, a car dealer refurbishes damaged cars and sells them on to unsuspecting bargain hunters. Parkpoom Wongpoom delivers the goods in workmanlike fashion. That’s not a criticism, it’s just that Salvage feels more like home-grown hit Shutter than any other entry in the series. The concept is a good one though, and there’s plenty to recommend. Some will argue that Salvage is a little too one-note, but if like me you’re a fan of that particular tune, Salvage hits the right key time and time again.
Last but not least, In the End tells the quirky tale of a film crew making a horror picture, left with the unenviable task of working out whether the cast members are actually dead or alive. Banjong Pisanthanakun should be praised for guiding us into lighter terrain, comedy horror is a tough combination to crack, but In the End makes it look like child’s play. Marsha Wattanapanich returns to her role from Thai smash Alone with tongue pressed firmly in cheek, hard at work on the set of an inferior sequel.
The crewmembers should look familiar to you as well; they also played a part in Phobia’s comedy interlude, In The Middle. In The End is more than happy to rip the beating heart out of Asian horror, and there’s something highly amusing about an actress dressing up as a ghost and chatting to the rest of the cast as if nothing is amiss. Pisanthanakun makes the most of every opportunity, lampooning his own work in the progress. It’s a smart move and all the more entertaining for it. Horror is very much an afterthought with In the End but it’s a welcome change of pace all the same.
It’s a fitting finale to a fantastic sequel, a follow-up that improves upon the original in every way. Phobia divided audiences worldwide. I loved the first half of the movie, meaning that my final verdict was hampered by a weak finish. Phobia 2 is a more consistent affair, and the film improves as it goes along, with In the End pulling the curtains across on a rousing finale. At a time when the horror genre feels mostly stale, Phobia 2 comes on like a welcome breath of fresh air. Not only does it serve up creative storytelling and well times scares, it manages to squeeze in plenty of laughs along the way.
The original movie was clearly an appetiser for the second instalment, and as a result, Phobia 2 is one of the most enjoyable horror anthologies you're likely to see. Anyone up for dessert? AW