The Coffin is a 2008 horror film co-production from Thailand, South Korea and Singapore directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham. The movie stars Ananda Everingham and Karen Mok.
There is, apparently, a ritual in Thailand where people line up to lie in coffins and take part in mock burials while wishing for some problem – be it medical or emotional – in their life to be fixed. It’s this essentially harmless tradition that inspires The Coffin, as two people find that while their wishes are granted, there is a price to pay.
Chris (Ananda Everingham) has a girlfriend in a coma, suffering from an incurable brain disease, while Sue (Karen Mok) is suffering from lung cancer and has fled from Hong Kong – where she is due to marry – to Thailand. Both take part in the ritual (in an opening shot that is truly breathtaking, as hundreds of coffins are arranged in circles around massive Buddha statues) out of desperation, but both find their requests have been granted – Chris’ girlfriend is cured and Sue’s cancer is nowhere to be found.
However, both are plagued with hallucinations – Chris starts to see typically Asian ghostly figures (white dress, long black hair) while Sue is visited by her husband to be – only to receive a call telling her that he has been killed. It soon transpires that in exchange for the lives that have been saved, someone else has had to die…
The Coffin is a lovely looking film, with remarkable, atmospheric imagery that director Ekachai Uekrongtham presents at a sedate pace, allowing the story to unfold slowly… a little too slowly, unfortunately.
By all accounts, this film started out as a non-supernatural story about death and acceptance and then had the horror elements grafted on when financing became impossible to obtain. And unfortunately, it feels very much like two ideas slammed together.
The slow melodrama would be a solid tale in its own right, but it doesn’t really work in the context of a ghost story – and the horror scenes feel rather out of place, with jump-shock moments thrown in at random just to keep the viewer awake and to remind them that this is a horror film. It’s not awful – the horror scenes by themselves are effective, but the clash of styles – and the overly familiar supernatural scenes – don’t really help the film hold your attention.
Those who hate subtitles will be glad to hear that most of this film is in English – which is actually quite disconcerting for some reason, and clearly a sop to the international market. This does allow for the appearance of a remarkably wooden (and thankfully quickly forgotten) English character, but it seems weird in a film based so closely around a tradition that will be entirely alien to most Western audiences.
As a horror film, The Coffin is strictly second division in the Asian Ghost Story world; as a look at our fear of death (and the Final Destination-like premise that Death cannot be cheated), it’s more successful, though the horror scenes invariably unbalance it. Not by any means disinteresting, the film is a decent failure – but you may well find your attention wandering as it plays out its schizophrenic story.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
Cast and characters:
Ananda Everingham … Chris
Karen Mok … Zoe
Aki Shibuya … Mariko (Chris’s girlfriend)
Andrew Lin … Zoe’s fiancé Jack
Florence Faivre … Zoe’s friend