Review: Krasue: Inhuman Kiss (2019)

Movie producers need to make up their minds about whether to scare or to enchant. Genre-benders have had a field day in the cinemas in recent years, though one genre usually gets the better of the other in the films. There is the ‘horredy’, which are often comedies at heart but transplanted into spooky settings and often peppered with horror cliches. Then, there are horror-fantasies, which are essentially fantasies that take you on dark detours, appealing to fans of Harry Potter and the likes, with mainly monsters forming the scare elements. Romance and horror on the other hand, actually make good bedfellows. Romanticism enriches the narrative base for horror and horror gives a sense of urgency to romance, sort of like how one finds solace in the other, while they both go on a exorcistic mission.

Krasue: Inhuman Kiss, directed by Sitisiri Mongkolsiri and written by Chookiat Sakveerakul, is a softer take on an age-old Southeast Asian (though some would claim it is Thai) fable about the Krasue, a flying female head with organs dangling from her neck, which goes around looking for flesh to feast on. Softer, because this 2019 take on a familiar demon, attempts to humanise the demon, by focussing on the love story between Sai, who turns into a Krasue at night, and Noi, her lover. Sai is the village nurse who had a supernatural encounter as a little girl and was soon to discover the consequences of that fateful encounter. Bleeding puddles on her bedsheets, and feeling asphyxiated by the dilation of arteries from her chest to her neck, Sai soon realises that the village myths about Krasues are no kiddy bedtime stories and she may be hosting the devil herself. At the same time, a monster-busting squad, which has been travelling from village to village hunting down Krasues, arrives in Sai’s village, ushered in by Noi, who somehow hastily fell in love in Sai.

The village exorcist squad

The above pretty much explains the narrative set up of the film - a woman being both a monster to her village and a lover to her childhood sweetheart, and Noi has the difficult task of hiding the truth from the village and the exorcist squad. Alongside this main narrative arc, is a love triangle element between Sai and Jerd, another childhood friend, as well as the sideshow of the Krahang’s witchhunt - the Krahang, being the male version of the Krasue, according to folklore. In trying to weave in so many plotlines and lay down scare trapdoors for the audience, the filmmakers sacrificed some basic elements in storytelling, chiefly the process of falling in love. Noi was Sai’s childhood friend who had disappeared from the village to Bangkok. Upon his reappearance, the film wasted no time coupling the two, using the fact Sai had been pining for Noi since his absence as a convenient bridge, just so that film could get on with its main plotline.
Childhood pals Noi, Sai and Jerd

Phantira Pipityakorn does a convincing job playing Sai, displaying a range of personas from that of a tenacious and brave nurse to a petrified and vulnerable Krasue-in-transition. However, her portrayal fails to help cover up the film’s CGI shortcomings. My technical estimations tells me it is inherently challenging to create a realistic looking flying human head using CGI. Perhaps, it’s about the shading or the tiny facial movements. It did not help that the Krasue head had a red glow from its dangling heart, making it look like a flying lantern as it whizzed above the tree canopies. A shortfall in technical skills aside, the film also suffers from a paradox of technological advancement, creating monsters that are too vivid. Two letters diluted the horror - HD. A little bit more mystery and obscured vision would have heightened the creepiness. Speaking of technology, a 1981 film version of the Krasue tale (or rather Leyak, as it is called in Indonesia), called Mystics in Bali, demonstrates what filmmakers played around with in the era of analog. Kitschy as it may look, it still manages to tingle your spine a little.

So in the genre spectrum between romance and horror, does Krasue: Inhuman Kiss sit nicely on the hybrid sweet spot? Horror certainly played second fiddle to the romance between two ill-fated lovers and the film’s message about love transcending physicality or humanality was stridently clear. But in honesty, the film’s best payoff was in its fantasy tropes, of how the villagers dealt with monsters from their folklore, pyrotechnic battles between flying creatures, blood-curdling bodily transformations and most of all, the kick of seeing human heads yank themselves off from their bodies!

Review by Jeremy Sing

'Krasue: Inhuman Kiss' opens in all cinemas in Singapore on 13 June 2019. It had its European premiere at the Far East Udine Film Festival and has been sold to 11 Asian territories.
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