“Ghost of Mae Nak” – A.J. Hakari

Ghost of Mae Nak, the 20th film version of Thailand’s “Mae Nak” legend, certainly feels like something that’s been done before, and much better at that. The story centers on Nak and Mak, a bright, young, crazy-in-love Thai couple. Due to be married in a matter of weeks, they are celebrating the purchase of their first house, an old but spacious abode in which to start their married life. Soon after they move in, Mak buys an antique brooch as a wedding present for his beloved Nak, and for some reason, strange occurrences begin taking place.

 

Mak (Siwat Chotchaicharin) is plagued with creepy visions of a pale, toothless ghost boasting a hole carved into her skull, and unbeknownst to the couple, those who mean them harm (from a shifty real estate agent to a pair of small-time thieves) end up suffering gruesome deaths. It’s not until an accident sends Mak into a coma that Nak (Patarida Pacharawirapong) realizes the dangerous situation she’s landed herself in. She eventually discovers that the only way to save Mak’s life and put an end to the bizarre killings involves getting to the bottom of a local folk myth about Mae Nak, a woman whose undying love for her husband couldn’t be stopped by anything — even death itself.

 

Ghost of Mae Nak is a Thai-based production written and directed by British filmmaker Mark Duffield, who takes a Western approach in bringing a 100-year-old story from Eastern folklore to the big screen. It sounds good on paper, but as transferred to film, Ghost of Mae Nak turns into one of the most laughable horror movies of the past few years. As in the wan Singapore fright flick The Maid, Duffield uses the pretense of depicting a part of Asian culture as an excuse to play out a tired plot littered with done-to-death scares that might have been successful the first time they appeared in a movie, but not here (which I think ranks about #150,203 on the list of movies where long-haired ghosts jump out at people).

 

Ghost of Mae Nak heads down two roads in a quest to generate fright and tension, attempting to elicit an atmosphere of tragedy and dread from the Mae Nak legend while throwing in a couple of graphic kill scenes — both of which come up with zilch. As a result, the viewer has to sit through another predictable ghost story as well as random violent set pieces that could be right out of Final Destination Meets the Three Stooges (how else can you describe a sequence showing one of a ghost’s victims accidentally — and goofily — getting scalding grease poured on himself before stumbling onto a grill and bursting into flames?). The film is made even worse by stiff writing, bland performances, and crummy production values that make Mae Nak, a figure simultaneously representing pure love and piercing fear, look more like a Kabuki actress with a really bad dental plan than a scary ghost.

 

Putting a stamp of disapproval on Ghost of Mae Nak makes me feel bad because I’m sure the filmmakers meant well. They wanted to find a successful way of introducing the Mae Nak story to the growing audience for foreign horror on this side of the pond. Unfortunately, the tragedy didn’t absorb me, the elements of horror didn’t scare me, and the story as a whole never engaged me. Like the titular spirit in Ghost of Mae Nak, after seeing how her story was depicted here, I’m feeling a bit vengeful myself.

 

Rating: ★☆☆☆

 

-A.J. Hakari

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