Ghost Game Review
Ghost Game (or La-Tha-Pii), may pique the interest of movie fans for a variety of reasons. It’s a release that joins a growing flow of horror flicks from Thailand, a country with a more modest horror output than some of its heavyweight Far East neighbours, but one which has proven itself more than capable of producing high quality filmic products. It’s also intriguing in that the eleven actors portraying the “contestants” in the ‘Ghost Game’ of the title were former contestants of a Thai talent TV show called Academy Fantasia, making their potential demise for the purposes of a horror movie seem all the more appealing; certainly so if they are remotely similar to the individuals showcasing their ‘talent’ on British television.
The most compelling of the peripheral activity surrounding this movie is the near diplomatic crisis that it spawned as a by-product of its core plot premise. The story opens with a short history lesson, displaying footage of a 1986 massacre of 10,000 inhabitants of the Island of Krujaba, Jedah, by cruel separatist leader Comrade Jium. The murky prison where Jium held the hostages before murdering them is deserted, and now preserved as a cautionary museum of sorts, and is presumably haunted by the spectre of Jium himself. For a reward of 5 million baht, the money-grabbing, fame-seeking eleven are pitted against each other through a series of ‘tests’ to discover which steely contestant will emerge victorious.
So, why the diplomatic crisis? The Thai producers wanted to film the movie inside Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia, which was a location of torture by the Khmer Rouge group. After being refused by the Cambodian government, the producers chose a location in Thailand itself, but alluded to the Tuol Sleng museum by calling Ghost Game’s prison ‘S-11’; the Tuol Sleng location was known as ‘S-21’ by the Khmer Rouge. Whilst the producers clearly wanted to adopt the often effective method of grinding out chilling horror by blurring the lines between reality and fiction, the Cambodian government were not sympathetic to this method, and banned the movie. There were even calls to ban Thai products in Cambodia for the insensitivity of the film’s premise and subject matter.
With such a colourful history underpinning this Far East shocker, the end result feels, unfortunately, rather more sedate. The early introduction and development of the central players against some stunning scenery shows promise, with a number of distinct personalities being sketched out during the embryonic stages of the reality TV show. The party’s subsequent entry into the gloomy and chilling shell of the former prison soon provides the opportunity for some genuine shocks and jumps, and the foundation has been carefully laid for the unfolding of this sometimes gruesome picture.
From here, though, the early gains are not fully exploited. The picture fails to maintain the gathering momentum, and with a running time of 105 minutes, the piece suffers from a lack of consistent pacing and would have benefited from some judicial editing. The development of the characters stagnates somewhat, with many of the personalities proving either too insipid, or too cynical and unpleasant to identify with, although Dao and Yuth, the female winner and male runner-up of the previous year’s contest, prove generally likeable. The main issue concerns the tension and climax of the horror; the scares lose a good deal of the initial impact, and many of the sequences simply don’t provide the level of shiver-inducing discomfort that you have come to expect from this subgenre.
That said, Ghost Game isn’t a bad stab at disturbing, murky, and claustrophobic horror, with some surprisingly decent performances from some of the ‘talent show’ cast, and if you are not put off by the slightly overlong (by horror standards, at least) running time and the lack of fully cranked-up tension, then you will find plenty of elements to enjoy in this Thai shocker; it’s just a shame that the controversy surrounding the release does more to separate it from other Far Eastern horror than the actual movie itself.
Ghost Game is presented using an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. I’m afraid to report that the picture quality isn’t up to the standard you would expect. The entire piece is filmed with a green to brown hue, lending the movie the appropriate atmospherics, but the image itself is grainy and often lacks definition. Separation of darks is not at the optimum standard and the net result is that some of the grisly action is difficult to see with the desired clarity. The transfer itself is free from distortion and the delivery to the screen is consistent, but it’s a shame that the source itself doesn’t match the expectations we have of a modern movie.
Subtitles are available in English, and these are very readable in large white characters, with the translation seeming fine.
Sound is available in either 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound. The audio reproduction is very clear; the moment where Dao drops her ring onto the floor, for example, results in a sharp, echoing metallic sound which is presented with impressive resonance and clarity.
There appears to be a slight lack of depth in the delivery of the bass and lower notes, though not to a degree significant enough to cause a problem.
There are a handful of decent trailers available on the disc, which you can choose from the menu system rather than having them forced upon you before the main film. Trailers of note include the very enjoyable Apartment 1303 and the crazy Thai distaff martial arts extravaganza, Chocolate.
There is also a Cast and Crew Documentary featurette. The quality of reproduction here is especially poor and even grainier than the feature itself. It appears to have been thrown together quite rapidly, with the accompanying subtitles appearing plastered all over a ‘Ghost Game’ logo and sometimes on top of the names of those being interviewed.
Ignoring the poor quality presentation of the featurette, it still manages to lend an interesting insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ activity, including special effects, and contains a number of interviews with cast and crew. It runs for about 15 minutes, which isn’t bad in contrast to many of the five minute featurettes tacked onto horror releases.
Ghost Game fails to match the impressive level of controversy it stoked with its arguably insensitive approach, and it is certainly not a worthy cause for the potential severing of fragile diplomatic ties with close neighbours. All in all though, it contains some authentic scares and jumps, and has just enough substance to mean it’s worth a look. Now, when can the British make a film where our reality TV show ‘stars’ are slowly and deliberately put out of their misery?