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Thanks to a sharp script and some solid direction, this portmanteau horror made of three distinct but related acts is a well-staged exercise in intrigue and suspense
Thai filmmakers love their anthologies, and in the vein of last year's "9.9.81" - which was made up of nine short films from nine different directors that told the same story from different points of view - comes yet another portmanteau "Last Summer". Comprising of three distinct acts from three separate directors, each chapter chooses a key character and builds in chronological order on the last to tell a related tale revolving around the murder of a teenage girl.
Kittithat Tangsirikit gets to set the scene with his first part, telling how the popular high-school student cum up-and-coming actress Joy (Pimpakan Phraekhunnatham) ends up sneaking away with her best friend Meen (Sutatta Udomsilp) and two other boys to a beach house. Too much booze and some cocktail drugs later, Joy breaks up in convulsions from an allergic reaction linked to her asthmatic condition, and eventually dies in a pool of her blood and vomit.
Afraid of the consequences if the police discover that she had been fed drugs by them, the two males - Singha (Jirayu La-ongmanee) and Garn (Krit Sathapanapitakkij) opt instead to dispose of her body. As is expected, Joy refuses to go away. En route to a deserted cliff, the boot of the car Singha is driving pops open and refuses to shut. The next day, she pops up in the waters near the house as if she intended to find her way back. Singha ends up stuffing her in a tiny pink suitcase, an inspired prop addition that makes a neat comeback in the final short.
Whereas another movie might have taken its entire feature length duration, Tangsirikit tells Joy's unfortunate death and the subsequent fallout on her friends within the span of just a half hour. Cutting to the chase ain't a bad thing in this case; not only does it make for a very pacey introduction, that need for brevity has also instilled a certain discipline in Tangsirikit's filming, who tones down the cheap 'boo' scares and focuses instead on crafting some truly gripping sequences laced with a deft touch of dark humour.
Taking over for the middle segment is Sittisiri Mongkolsiri, who continues the story with Meen back in school in the wake of Joy's death. Turns out the two weren't just best friends, they were also keen competitors - with Joy gone, Meen becomes the centre of attention, even to the extent of commanding her own fan club. Unfortunately, Meen is increasingly haunted by visions of Joy along the school's hallways, and bit by bit, Mongkolsiri reveals how Meen wasn't just a helpless observer in Joy's demise.
The idea of a haunted school is one of the oldest tricks of the horror playbook, but this iteration still proves compelling with a psychological twist. Given how Meen seems to be the only one seeing Joy's ghost, Mongkolsiri challenges his audience to guess whether in fact the disturbances are but a figment of Meen's own imagination, or better still a manifestation from her troubled conscience. Udomsilp is utterly captivating in the role, showcasing a whole gamut of emotions from indignation to fear to paranoia and finally to desperation - and the fact that this is our favourite short of the three is in no small measure due to her performance.
Saranyoo Jiralak's concluding chapter unfolds with a new character addition, Joy's brother Ting (Ekkawat Ekatchariya). Though he had been living in his sister's shadow, Ting now gets the brunt of his mother's overbearing attention, who intervenes personally with the swim coach just so he can have a spot on the school's competitive dive team. Like Meen, Ting is also spooked by Joy's spirit, with most of the encounters taking place within their two-storey house. And like Meen too, Ting is also culpable for Joy's fate - for that matter, so is their mother - which explains why the lights go off suddenly one night, an old video tape of Joy in her childhood days starts playing, and the pink suitcase makes its reappearance within the home.
Not quite as distinctive as Mongkolsiri's entry or as exciting as Tangsirikit's opening, Jiralak's contribution instead resorts to conventional scares to sustain interest, redeemed only by the twists reserved right at the end. Indeed, the real star of the show is in fact Kongdej Jaturanrasmee's deftly wounded screenplay - not only is each act well written with a establishing premise, buildup and climax, the combination of the three acts also coheres beautifully as a whole to add layers to what may seem like a deceptively simple story especially at the beginning. A strong plot is a rarity in Thai horror films, but Jaturanrasmee exceeds expectations with an engaging story complete with a recurring theme of human fallacy.
At a juncture when it appears as if the only watchable Thai horror films are those from the GTH stable, "Last Summer" represents a pleasantly solid effort by the new production shingle Talent 1 Movie Studio. The writing is impressive, the directing by three top indie filmmakers is way better than most of its ilk, and the overall package is undoubtedly one of the more outstanding we have seen in a while. If you're looking for a good scare, this better-than-average mystery thriller should do the trick.
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