Thai tradition certainly has some weird and wonderful potential for horror: as in P (2005), The Coffin takes for its premise the idea that magic rituals, if you don’t understand and remember the rules, can cause dark forces to gather. Here, the idea of actions having consequences manifests as ‘bad karma’, and for our characters, that bad karma derives from the ostensibly real Thai practice of trying to cheat bad fortune by going through a fake funeral rite. Claustrophobics beware…

Because so much of Thai folklore and superstition has no precedent in the West, the film explains this principle at the beginning. This is just as well, as we meet both of our characters when they’re already in their coffins. Snippets from their lives outside the box are immediately interspersed with surreal sequences as they go through the rite – and some of these sequences are, shall we say, more original than others. If I had a tenner for every long-haired female ghost I’ve seen in Far Eastern cinema I’d be well off: they must be almost equal in number to the masked omnipotent killers of Western horror by now. Gradually though, two independent stories emerge. Chris (Ananda Everingham) is doing this for his comatose girlfriend; however, a seizure during the ritual lands him in hospital. Evidently, some point between the rite and being resuscitated has pitched him into a hallucinatory state. Funnily enough, our other character Su (Karen Mok) also ends up hospitalised soon after her ritual (how do they get people to partake in this ritual? It’s at least as dangerous as all the things they’re trying to beat!) Fatalistically, she explains to the staff there that they needn’t have bothered saving her as she’s riddled with cancer. No, they tell her, no cancer here…

So – the ritual has obviously worked. Both characters get their wishes fulfilled. You may well see where this is going, though. If you think you can cheat bad luck, forget it: bad karma will punish you and those around you somehow.

The Coffin uses some interesting material for its basis: I would personally have loved to know more about the background of this belief and its place, if any, in Thai tradition. However, the film doesn’t pause to explore that aspect, and in trying perhaps to be all things to all men, it fudges a lot of elements along the way. Starting the film the way it does is quite bold – i.e. pitching us straight into the rite without pausing to introduce the characters – but less bold is the way that the film then throws in a lot of derivative material: it reduces the interest that might otherwise have been there. You seem to get a good sequence and then a bad sequence which detracts from it – meaning the film feels patchy, and never as good as it could be. It wants to pitch us into a strange, dreamlike world, and some of these scenes are very good indeed (such as the field of coffins, or the boy sinking beneath the water) but then, a jump cut and a pasty-faced phantom later, that atmosphere is addled. This goes for its pace too, because whilst it is not a long film, the action moves at very different speeds. Performances aren’t bad for the most part – both lead actors are experienced and work hard to lend gravitas to their roles – although panic isn’t expressed very believably as the ghosties start their inevitable assault. The whole film is at its best when it slows down and lends weight to the themes of love and death which are so integral to it.

The Coffin isn’t a terrible film by any means, but it will sadly end up resting in the ‘another of those Far Eastern horrors’ category. Aesthetically it has some great ideas (although the heavy blue tint to the film is a curious choice) but its slight case of schizophrenia with regards pace and atmosphere makes it hard to love. The film is presented in a 1.85:1 ratio and – although my screener seemed to be missing them – extras include deleted scenes, alternate footage, cast and crew interviews and the international trailer.

Review by Keri O’Shea

Released by Breaking Glass Pictures, Vicious Circle Films
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review