After her debut feature screened at the second Stranger festival in 2014, filmmaker Mattie Do returns to the supernatural genre once again with her second feature Dearest Sister (Nong hak), which will also be screened at the 5th installment of the “Stranger With My Face” festival in Tasmania.
Living a life of poverty, young teenager Nok (Amphalphun Phommapunya from Do’s earlier film Chanthalay) is tired of living with her restrictive and uncooperative cousin Ana, (Vilouna Phetmany) who is undergoing progressive blindness. Trying to steer herself between the paths of virtue and honesty, she finds that her cousin’s exacerbated condition has brought about an increased awareness of a skill that allows her to speak to the dead. As she becomes more and more desperate to escape the lifestyle that they’ve fallen into, the more she tries to utilize the skill-set to her advantage.
Like it’s predecessor, this is a film heavy on story and symbolism than traditional ghost-genre fare, like jump-scares and gore. The central aspect of the film here is the relationship between the three, with the character’s development split between the young girl, her cousin and the husband. They all live together, as Nok’s condition manages to wear down her conscience due to the sudden increase in luck. As they start taking advantage, the result of this causing a strain on the relationship makes the sudden influence of the supernatural quite chilling. This mindset of appealing to the division between the two is explored, as the rural-raised cousin who’s used to a life of poverty is juxtaposed against the more big-city traditions and values. Going from the different conditions, with trips into the city and the influence of technology on their lives that’s beyond their reach, gives this a kind of rather intriguing appeal not usually seen in Western films.
Away from this stellar class-value symbolism, the film also manages to succeed nicely as a flat-out ghost story. There’s a lot to like with the supernatural sequences that comes into play, as there’s a slew of solid scenes featuring Nok and her cousin experiencing the first signs of the ghostly action. The shock she endures in these scenes causes her to get freaked out when the situation is completely normal. Or is it? Something is going on with her. The spectacular scene where the ghost appears physically before her is a solid and creepy sequence. Though it doesn’t go for the jugular like so many usually do, it more than makes up with a rather chilling final half that really turns the tables on what happened before. This gives Dearest Sister a decidedly different tone than what had previously occurred, shifting into a groove that is quite darker than expected.
Now, there are long sections of the film that won’t be very enjoyable for some out there. The pacing is quite deliberate and doesn’t have the same kind of relentless energy that most Western films of this nature, as there’s a more languid and dramatic feel than one of abject terror and shocks. The horror scenes are integrated strategically into the film, but really aren’t apart of that much of the film’s running time. Rather, this might be way too light on such scenes for some who want a more rapid-fire and relentless tone with jump-scares. Dearest Sister doesn’t have many at all and doesn’t go all-in on the horror until selected moments; so there’s bound to be some disappointment in this one regardless of what happens or how good the film really is. However, this might be the only real problem bringing this flick down.
The film will be screened as part of the Stranger with My Face festival running May 4-7 in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
4 out of 5 Zombie Heads