Two newlyweds, Mak (Siwat Chotchaicharin) and Nak (Pataratida Pacharawirapong), inadvertently awaken the ghost of Mae Nak (Porntip Papanai), a woman who, 100 years earlier, terrorized her local village after dying and coming back as an extremely vengeful ghost. After dispatching anyone she felt was standing between her and her living husband, Mak, the local religious leaders performed a ceremony that was to keep the ghost of Mae Nak at rest. Now she is awake again and not too happy that she cannot find any peace after death.
After protecting the newlyweds from a couple of unscrupulous characters like a crooked real estate agent and a pair of burglars, she wants the favor returned by forcibly employing Mak to help release her and set her spirit free once and for all. But after an accident that leaves Mak in a coma, Mae Nak then turns to Nak to finish the task. Nak not only has the responsibility of helping put an extremely angry ghost back into the grave, but she has a limited time to do it in as her actions, or lack thereof, could spell certain death for her husband. To help Nak with the task at hand, Mae Nak resorts to her old tricks and once again begins removing anyone who is standing in the way of Nak achieving her goal, in some very gruesome fashions.
Mae Nak is yet another black-haired, white faced ghost that populates Asian ghost stories and part of traditional Taiwanese folklore. She has been the subject in no less than 20 different films, the most recent being the 1999 hit film, Nang Nak. In this continuation of the Nak story, British filmmaker, Mark Duffield, has the ghost of Mae Nak being re-awakened in present day Bangkok. Urban sprawl takes center stage, and in Ghost of Mae Nak, this is shown repeatedly as well as how the urban and rural areas seem to co-exist with one another. This theme of new meeting old is a re-occurring one throughout “Ghost of Mae Nak”, as Duffield consistently merges them in scenes involving the overcrowded streets of Bangkok. Streets that are not only choked by people, vehicles and businesses, but also share space with monk inhabited temples, fortune tellers and street vendors. By showing scenes in which monks silently pray over the body of a man laying in a coma, surrounded by all the equipment modern, medical technology has to offer, Mark Duffield seems to be showing the viewer a culture that has still been able to hold on to its’ traditions even as they are assimilated into progress.
Mark Duffield also touches on how the younger generation relates to the older generations beliefs and long-held traditions by showing the young couple in a club listening to a rock band and then later having a traditional Taiwanese wedding ceremony. In the process of getting married and buying a house, the newlyweds have to interact with real estate agents and lawyers as well as dealing with fortune tellers and the older, superstitious family members. Duffield shows how the younger generation may slowly be abandoning tradition and superstitions, yet still show enough respect for their elders to uphold them. This is more prevalent later in the film when you see the reactions of the people to whom couple try and explain their situation. The older figures know all about the legend of Mae Nak, and even offer suggestions or guidance. In contrast, the younger peers of the newlywed are skeptical, have no knowledge of the folklore and in some cases, flat out refuse to believe what they are being told in regards to Mae Nak’s ghost. However, Mark Duffield never seems to side with either of the two camps as both the scientific and the supernatural ultimately fail in every attempt at helping the couple deal with their plight. The only person that can help this couple is the very same one who is tormenting them.
With production values that are visibly higher than the norm, Mark Duffield does a competent job in filming a myriad of different locations, from city streets and marketplaces, to 100 year old villages and modern day temples, the film is shot with vibrant colors that give the entire movie a Western feel. While this is pleasing to the eye, as most Thai movies use a much blander color palette, it ultimately loses some of the creepy factors that one would usually associate with these Asian, ghost-girl type of movies. While not chock full of gore from beginning to end, Ghost of Mae Nak decides to stay more on the ghost story side of the fence, but does surprise in a couple of scenes by delivering the goods in some of the more elaborate death scenes that are reminiscent of the Final Destination films.
Whenever Mae Nak shows herself to anyone aside from the couple, it usually does not bode well for the person seeing her. In ghost form, Mae Nak is an extremely white ghost with long black hair, black gums and a giant hole in her forehead whose face changes to demonic proportions as she howls like a banshee. She arranges the deaths of a few characters that include decapitation by subway, burning to death and a memorable scene in which a man is split in half, head to crotch, by a sheet of glass. Most of these effects use a conjunction of actual makeup effects along with some noticeable CGI, especially in some of the scenes in which the ghost of Mae Nak shows up, but overall they are above the low-budget variety and another tell-tale sign of the films budget.
Ghost of Mae Nak does fail on a few levels, the most major being that it is just not a scary film. Other films, such as Juon: The Grudge and even Dark Water have effectively created scenes that derived fear and dread from the viewer in the most modern of settings. Ghost of Mae Nak attempts to do the same by relying on the standard “jump” scares and predictable scenarios that a lot of horror fans have seen one too many times before. Because of this, and with little help from the uninspired score, the majority of scenes designed to scare the viewer fall flat. If you watch horror films, you will easily predict what is about to happen at anytime. There is also a sub-plot involving Nak and a stalking ex-friend that was unnecessary and leads nowhere.
But even with those shortcomings, Ghost of Mae Nak is a good film with a lot more going for it than against it. Mark Duffield delivers a slickly produced film that is steadily paced and never gets too boring. The cast deliver good performances (Pataratida Pacharawirapong is extremely easy on the eyes), and the death scenes come with a side of gore. Throw in a bit of social commentary that works in almost all countries, and you have a decent horror film that should satisfy most horror fans and provide a great introduction to anyone wanting to check out any Thai horror films.