Nymph (2009, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang)

Movies that open with a rape scene have a lot of catching up to do. Then two dead guys floating in a pond. These events bookend a minutes-long tracking shot through the woods. Dead guys could be the rapists if we were going in circles. Sets up a movie in which I’m never quite sure if we’re going in circles, especially when traveling these woods.

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Nop is a photographer, married to May who works in an office and sleeps with her boss (and never with Nop). Nop is briefly seen shooting an interview with someone talking about spirits. Now we’ve got a disorienting forest, sex, death and vague mention of spirits. That’s all the answers we’re ever gonna get out of this movie – no big final scene where all the mystery is explained. If I’d read what I’m writing now before watching the movie I’d think it’d remind me of K. Kurosawa’s Charisma, but while watching it, didn’t remind me of nothing. I also tried to draw Tropical Malady connections (couples and spirits in Thai forests) but that didn’t work either. Best I’ve got is Antichrist. A couple in trouble retreats to the forest, ends up permanently changed by supernatural events and only one makes it back home (not to mention a sex-upon-tree-roots shot, below, that seemed directly related).

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May likes her cellphone, takes sleeping pills, does anything to avoid Nop, but searches for him frantically when he goes missing in the woods. She’s taken home by her boss, where she finds Nop the next morning, sleeping on the couch, acting bizarre, obsessed with plants and consuming only water. Back to the forest to attack a mystical tree with a machete, Nop is in the woods too, tells her and the boss to leave. Or, he tells the boss to leave… May is unconscious at this point, since she spends half the movie getting knocked out or fainting or sleeping through important events. Was Nop ever really back home or has he been in the woods this whole time? Is he walking the forest in his pajamas or a naked and helpless captive inside a hollow tree? What exactly is the naked nymph doing to him? This would be a good time to know more about Thai mythology.

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Wikipedia says it’s a Greek thing, that they’re female personifications of nature, tied to a specific location. Not much help elsewhere… Twitch says the film is slow to a fault and calls it “the least commercial film of Ratanaruang’s career,” Ion says it’s “deeply rooted in non-discourse.”

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Pen-Ek himself: “It’s more of a mystery than a horror story. The filmmakers have sided with the ghost in this film, therefore the humans in the film are scarier than the ghost. … I am preoccupied with bad relationships and lonely people,” and about his change in style before shooting Last Life in the Universe and apparently continuing today, “I wanted there to be no story – I wanted to film mood.”

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