Latest screen reinvention of Thai horror story Lady Nak of Phra Kanong comes from hit Thai horror director Banjong Pisanthanakun, with scares and laughter aplenty…
The latest film from Banjong Pisanthanakun, Pee Mak is the most recent award winning horror comedy to come out of Thailand with a plethora to entertain. Feauturing German actor Mario Maurer as the titular Mak, and his four soldier friends (who you may notice as having appeared in Banjong’s earlier films) as five war-torn veterans returning home. On returning and meeting with beautiful wife Nak (Davika Hoorne), it doesn’t take long for suspiciously acting villagers and eventful circumstances to lead Mak’s four friends into skeptical conclusions.
When he arrives back home, Mak ignores the clamouring of his fellow villagers as they try to failingly warm him that his wife Nak is actually a ghost, who died during childbirth at the beginning of the film. As the narrative continues, a lot of the film is built around Mak’s four friends hilariously bumbling around trying to escape, but inform their friend at the same time about his dead wife returned alive. A lot of the verbal comedy in the script seems to come from local jokes in the Thai dialect, which don’t completely translate over to English, however the visual nature of the slapstick comedy appeals to all audiences.
Mak’s friends begin to suspect they are in danger as a corpse is discovered buried behind his house, wearing the same ring that Nak has on, and they are convinced that themselves (and their friend Mak) is in danger. Other scenes set in the boat or the fairground only help to further the comedy, as whilst the film is full of jump scares and has a rising soundtrack that would make Paranormal Activity proud, it is really the laughter that shines through and gives the impression Director Banjong is putting more love into the humorous elements.
For a film that is set over 100 years in the past, it puts a lot of weight into getting humour through contemporary pop culture references. Blatant admiring replications of speeches from films such as 300 or The Last Samurai do much in the way of gaining a grin, however these subtly laid references could come back and harm the film in the future, serving only to ground it with audiences of this decade instead of allowing it to become timeless in the nature that the critical acclaim it has received deserves.
Despite this, Pee Mak is a superbly produced film with an incredible audio soundtrack that helps to elevate the horror themes. The actors themselves gel well together and Mak’s four friends generate a lot of the film’s laughs, with Mak falling quickly into the role of a doe-eyed lover that quickly grates on the nerves. The majority of the film’s length is spent focusing on the antics of the four friends as they cower and flutter around the landscape in fear, however this feels like lengthy unintended padding in a film that could have worked a lot better (and probably should have relied more) on the horror aspects of it’s source material.
At the end of the day, there is only so much slapstick running and screaming a film can grind before the laughter ceases, and the second act of Pee Mak feels like a laborious journey that only hits a rapid pace in the closing scenes. Despite all this, a superb cast of actors and incredible production values help to elevate Pee Mak above a regular horror or comedy film, with the blend of genres making this possibly Banjong Pisanthanakun’s best film to date yet.