Time for some creepy ghost action, Thai style, with a look at director Poj Arnon’s 2011 effort, “The Unborn Child”. Been a while since I’ve gotten to watch any Thai films, but thanks to a recent Taiwanese release with those ever so nifty English subtitles on board, it was finally time to give it a try.
Our synopsis goes sorta like this: “Crime-scene photographer Tri, his wife Pim, and lovable little 5 year old daughter Yaimai become haunted by the spirit of an angry child after Tri is assigned to film the body of a woman discovered after an illegal abortion gone wrong.
As he investigates the mysterious events surrounding the case, the danger deepens for his family and secrets he thought long past return to seek vengeance in the name of the spirits of a horde of helpless infants trapped in a grisly existence beyond death where only anger and hatred remain.”
I’ve heard that this one is a bit overly preachy and exploitative… and it’s based on a true Thai news scandal from a year or so back, with a lot of “moral instruction” intended for a Thai audience at large rather than entertaining a foreign one…. but darn it…. it’s just been soooo long since any Thai horror has made it’s way to this wee Catgirl that I’m willing to take a chance and give this one a try. I mean…. it’s got oodles and oodles of ghost babies….. how can that not be super creepy? 😉
So… without further delay, let’s get right down to it and see for ourselves just what sort of creepy hijinx those baby ghosts can get up to, shall we?
Our movie is one of those real “ripped from the headlines” stories. Seems that back in November of 2010, a foul stench emanating from the Wat Phai Ngern temple in Bangkok’s Old City resulted in the Thai police discovering a total of some 2000 dead fetuses…. all wrapped up in plastic bags and newspapers hidden away in a temporary body storage area where they had been kept for nearly a year apparently to conceal a thriving traffic in illegal abortions.
Despite the very unfortunate fact that Thailand is home to a large and infamous sex industry, most of the Thai people are fairly conservative regarding sexuality, and the local Buddhist religion especially opposes any liberalization of abortion laws. Abortion itself is illegal in Thailand with only three specific exceptions allowed, if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy affects her health or if the fetus is abnormal. Given this… it’s hardly surprising then to find that the illegal abortion trade is both widespread and lucrative. Something this shocking… this downright nasty…. just had to be ripe for exploitation by the film industry. But remember…. Thailand is a fairly conservative culture where this topic is concerned, so just how can you tell such a story without running afoul of the new Thai Film Censorship board?
Easy. You just disguise your horror movie as one of those cautionary anti-abortion propaganda films…. sort of like the goofy anti- drug films made here in the US back in the 30’s,40’s and 50’s and give your audience some well needed “moral” message as a public service along with your story. Ummmmm? But wait? Didn’t those movies really… really suck? Yeah, they really did. 😦
Sigh. So that means that our promising creepy lil’ horror movie is going to spend much of it’s time beating that message home for the audience. Still… there’s got to be some room left for some scary ghost action, right? Oh yes…. it seems there is. 😉
Our main story revolves around Tri and his family, and in particular the fascination his little girl Yaimai has with her new “invisible playmate”. All kids have one of those… but not all of them insist that it’s her brother…. especially when she’s an only child. Merely annoying at first as Yaimai blames much of the sudden mischief she’s been getting up to on this “brother”, it soon escalates as she really starts getting into the whole “I play with dead people” thing… with some disturbing results.
While this is going on, other events are transpiring in parallel to this. First we have a couple of schoolkids who are wrestling with the familiar problem of how to handle the girl’s unplanned (and most definitely unwanted) pregnancy. Then we meet a young actress who finds her career threatened suddenly once discovers she’s pregnant. Linking all these people is the story of the world weary and burnt-out nurse turned abortionist who disposes of the nasty by-products of her illegal procedures with the help of a custodian who hides them away inside a storage locker at a local Buddhist temple. He’s supposed to be slipping them in with the legitimate cremations…. a great idea that should work flawlessly to hide the crime, but a busted oven has put that whole scheme on hold. That means all the tiny corpses just start piling up….. and that means trouble of course.
All of these people eventually start experiencing the weird hauntings as the baby ghost population reaches it’s supernatural “critical mass”…. but of them all, our story with Tri and his family stays center stage while we try to figure out what it is about them that has attracted the attentions of ghosts in the first place. (There is a reason… but it’s part of our climactic “twist ending” so Neko can’t really explain things much further without ruining things for you all, Gentle Visitors… ;)) Here the scares are pretty much like you might expect… with the ghosts eventually leading Tri to the Temple and a final showdown with the spirits that seem bent on stealing away little Yaimai for reasons you don’t quite understand till that “twist ending” happens…..
Our other two stories, while touching on the supernatural, spend much of their time basically exploring the physical and mental toll of the consequences of these abortions on those who seek them out as solutions to a problem they should have been wise enough to avoid in the first place. They really don’t add much to our story, beyond reinforcing that rather preachy message about “per-marital sex bad…. abortion bad…. just be good little pious Buddhists and don’t fool around”. Trust me…. as an audience, we get that…. and continuing to hammer it home seems overdone and unnecessary for the plot to be effective. But I imagine the Thai Censors really liked that….. 😉
Of these secondary stories, I suppose the most interesting had to be the one revolving around our abortionist herself. She comes across as jaded, tired, worn, and just plain sick of life…. living off this misery and the horror of her trade, yet somehow believing… and I mean really believing… that she’s been doing the “right” thing all this time and helping her “clients” with her butchery. Perhaps the scariest… as well as saddest… part of the story is meeting the horde of children she has raised as her own. All of them children she cut from their real mother’s wombs, and yet when they simply didn’t die in the process, she couldn’t kill them and throw them away like garbage…. instead raising and loving them as if they were her own. It’s both touching (and quietly frightening) when I suddenly realized that each additional child she kept simply meant she needed even more to ply her abhorrent trade just to keep them all fed, clothed, and supported. Brrrrr!!
So, all in all…. how did this one go down? Well, the last 20 minutes or so are actually pretty good, and filled to the brim with ghostly vengeful fetuses all ready to take out their collective fury on those they feel most responsible for their position of being trapped in a horrifying eternal Limbo between Life and Re-birth. Given this, I feel pretty good about giving “The Unborn Child” 3 “Meows” out of 5. It’s not the best horror film I’ve ever seen out of Thailand, but it’s certainly not the worst. I think it would have been better with less of the “moralizing” and preachy stuff thrown in, but hey…. I have to remember I’m not really the target audience for this one anyway. As a ghost story… it’s merely alright… as a “moral lesson” it’s overdone and tedious. Personally, I felt that the Thai film “LaddaLand” did a much better job of tackling a serious Thai social problem and wrapping it up in a horror yarn…. and was one film which would have worked either as a straight ghost tale or a drama with a message…. while here the two never really seem compatible, and the director almost seems ashamed of mining the events for their exploitative value. Perhaps some stories are just too taboo….
The Taiwanese Region 3 DVD is pretty darn good, being done in widescreen NTSC format with good, mostly accurate English subtitles on board. It’s available for around 14-20 $ US at most of the usual places for such DVD goodness. If Asian Baby ghost action is your thing, you’ll probably be happy with a peek. Me…. I’m thinking I need some hopping vampires….. 😉
As always, Neko’s got you a trailer, filled with plenty of chills and ghostly fetus action…. 😉