Review: 'The Promise' promises classic horror without gimmicks

Marcus Goh
Photo: Golden Village Pictures

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 114 minutes (~2 hours)

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

“The Promise” is a Thai horror movie which revolves around the failed suicide attempt of two schoolgirls during 1997’s Asian Financial Crisis. Years later, strange happenings begin plaguing the survivor, putting her family at risk. If the survivor doesn’t learn from the lessons of the past, then she may risk losing everything she holds dear.

“The Promise” is directed and written by Sophon Sakdaphisit, with additional writing credits for Sopana Chaowiwatkul and Supalerk Ningsanond. It stars Numthip Jongrachatawiboon (Boum), Apichaya Thongkham (Bell),  Thunyaphat Pattarateerachaicharoen (Young Boum), and Panisara Rikulsurakan (Ib). It is rated PG13.

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

“The Promise” was the opening film for Golden Village’s Horror Film Festival 2017, for good reason — the movie is classic horror at its best. It may not feel that way at first, as the opening feels very much like Jay Chou’s “Secret” (complete with a piano score and all). There’s a slight indie vibe to the film, but that’s because of the vintage treatment in the opening scenes of the film. You could be mistaken for thinking that “The Promise” is a tragedy, until it springs its horror on you and you recognise the set as an actual “haunted” tower in Bangkok.

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

The film was shot at the Sathorn Unique Tower, also known as the “Ghost Tower” of Bangkok. It’s an unfinished condominium project that was abandoned in the ’90s due to the Asian Financial Crisis, and has been mired in lawsuits for years. As a result, it’s a derelict skyscraper in the middle of town, attracting adventurous tourists from around the world since it’s purported to be haunted. Its architecture and dilapidated look are what contribute to the atmosphere of fear in “The Promise”, making you edgy about what might pop out every time the main characters head to the tower.

However, “The Promise” doesn’t make use of gimmicky jump scares or gory special effects to elicit fear from you. Instead, the horror comes from classic filmmaking techniques, terrifying you with cinematography rather than cheap tricks. That’s where “The Promise” shines, because it’s not only a horror movie, but a film with great cinematic merit as well. There are occasional jump scares though, since it wouldn’t feel like a horror movie without a sprinkling of shocks throughout. But most of the movie preys on your fear of the unknown, using your own imagination against you in the worst way possible.

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

Part of the movie takes place in the ’90s, since that’s the premise for the conflict in the film. The attention to detail is amazing, thanks to the production design of Arkadech Keawkotr and art direction of Apiwat Sudsawat. The nostalgia factor is on par with that of “Stranger Things”, and definitely strikes a chord with anyone who grew up in the ’90s. Even the computers display the classic Windows 95 opening logo, and the choice of props are all on point.

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

The accuracy of the ’90s computer props also highlights the clever use of technology as storytelling device in the film. By contrasting how teenagers used technology in the ’90s and today, it effectively showcases their similarities and differences in a subtle but memorable way. Mobile devices are used to drive the story forward, rather than being featured for the sake of proving that the film is “modern” (the portrayal of mobile device usage is problematic and contrived in many films), and reminds us of the inexorable power of the supernatural amidst technological progress.

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

If there’s any flaw in the film, it’s that the resolution goes on for too long after the climax. There’s no need for such exposition, especially since the most pressing question has been answered already. It does try to reduce the sense of inevitability that pervades much of the film, and succeeds to some extent. Unfortunately, most of the film’s narrative energy has been lost by then, and you’re not really as emotionally invested anymore by the time the film ends.

“The Promise” starts off intriguingly and draws you in with excellent horror movie-making techniques, without ever resorting to irritating tricks. It’s also a good film in its own right, with excellent and well thought-out visuals. If the horror film could have ended on a stronger note, it could have gone down in history as one of Asia’s classic horror movies.

Photo: Golden Village Pictures

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you like horror.

Score: 3.75/5

“The Promise” opens in cinemas:
– 16 November, 2017 (Singapore)
– 2 November, 2017 (Malaysia)

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Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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