The Commitment Review
It could be any horror movie. A group of bored teenagers enter a spooky, deserted house, make some rash wishes and promises and eventually pay the consequences. You've seen it all before. You know within the first ten minutes what the outcome will be. All the same, there's a certain style to The Commitment, an atmosphere and steady, confident pacing that you wouldn't get with many US releases. It's these elements that elevate it, taking it slightly above the usual fare and making it worth ninety-odd minutes of your life. The rest is just genre.
The Commitment is the first release from Anchor Bay's Dark Asia label. Promising to deliver high quality Asian horror, what we are in danger of getting is a series of Grudge/Ringu clones. The influences of that style are certainly in evidence here. Concentrating on slow build-ups, quick editing and similar themes - malevolent and seemingly invincible spirits, a mystery that slowly unravels over the course of the movie - you would be forgiven for believing that the Far East is a one-trick pony where horror is concerned. How good this is no doubt depends on how scared you are of long-haired ghosts dishing out evil stares to all and sundry. Clearly, Asian audiences are terrified by the sudden appearance of ghosts, signified by strange noises, an unkempt appearance and dirty fingernails. Griping aside, I actually thought The Grudge was one of the most frightening films I had seen in a long while. Despite the obvious scares and near absence of a plot, it had enough atmosphere to keep me from wanting to look too long in mirrors for fear of seeing... well, you know the rest.
Suffice it to say The Commitment has plenty of 'Grudgian' moments, which isn't a surprise when you take the story into consideration. Focusing on three teenage schoolfriends, Moss, Pin and Muay, the yarn opens as they snoop around a local haunted house with some pals. Later, they make wishes at a shrine outside - in Thailand, it is believed you can do this and the house's resident spirits will grant them. Big mistake. The ghost is of the vengeful variety, and soon enough starts making the girls pay the price for their wishes. In some cases, this isn't so bad. One of the kids offers to shave her head if the spirit helps her find a purse. She does, and her hair starts falling out in big messy clumps.
But for the main trio, the rash commitment they make will have disastrous consequences. According to director Montree Khong-im, this is what the movie is all about. Teenagers were chosen as the subject because, in his words, they express their emotions more readily, which in turn prompts them to make silly promises they can't hope to fulfil. Presumably, this is why the vast majority of horror films aren't made about middle-aged people, who are that little bit wiser and more reflective.
All this is hogwash, of course. What it's really about is delivering on the frights front, and this it does often enough. As the spirits make more sinister appearances, the ante is upped for our heroines. Muay, the one deserving the least trouble, is in fact hit hardest. For reasons best known to them (and hinted by the director as adding to a claustrophobic atmosphere), they appear to her while she's in the bathroom, the nastiness escalating as Muay can do as little as open her mirror door to receive an unwelcome visitation (Tangential note - will horror directors ever get sick of using the bathroom mirror trick? I think it was best employed in American Werewolf in London, but Shaun of the Dead had a good one, and it's been shown so often that you know as soon as someone does it they're in for trouble. The truth is it gets me nearly every time).
In the meantime, Pin has a terrifying visit from her boyfriend, and Moss - the instigator of the curse - suffers a series of strange dreams, the plot device whereby we find out what this is all about. Not that any of this really matters. The Commitment is a series of scary set-pieces, nothing more. The good thing is it doesn't try to be anything else. Using weird, broken record sounds (reminiscent of old Playstation game, Silent Hill) to precede its 'moments' instead of haunting music is a masterstroke, as is the sudden change in editing that surround the frights. They're not Montree's own touch, but he copies them faithfully enough for them to retain some power. The girls can act suitably terrified, which they're called on to do quite often, and the spirits themselves look reasonably worth suffering a jolt over.
It's a minor shame all this has been done before, but compared with recent American releases like, for instance, Cursed, it's certainly welcome. US directors are still obsessed with jumpy special effects and sex. Asia relies on mood lighting, random noises and a palpatable sense of claustrophobia. Also, considering nearly every actor is a nubile young girl, the lack of sex is a surprise. But then the movie isn't here to titillate us. Its raison d'etre is to scare, and this it does better than many films with bigger budgets and more alleged talent behind and in front of the camera.
Disappointingly, the picture quality isn't fantastic, often looking too soft, which in some of the more monochrome scenes (e.g. Muay's green-tiled bathroom) is just confusing. Perhaps this is the intention, but I would have thought the average viewer's expectations of sharp clarity are going to be dashed by the transfer. The sound however is as crisp as it should be, which is vital in a feature that relies so strongly on creepy noises capable of adding to the suspense.
English subtitles are fixed throughout.
Of the extras, the interviews with the main cast members and Montree are surprisingly brief. The director does elaborate somewhat on the motives behind The Commitment and attempts to hoodwink us by revealing that it's a movie about the choices we all make in life. Yeah, right. It's here the subtitles come across as less than honest. Whereas in the film they follow the speech closely, here Montree elucidates madly whilst we see only a few words in translation. We must be getting the jist of his speech, but clearly little more than that. A trailer is also included, which I was amazed to find includes one of the film's gorier - not to mention pivotal - sequences, along with some fairly meaningless text that adds precisely zip to one's understanding of the feature.