Short Film Review: Underground Cemetery (2020)

Suspense is often what is unknown, intensified. There is perhaps no golden rule for how much uncertainty builds suspense, but too much or too little and the feeling doesn’t hold. 

Wisarut Sriputsomboon’s short film Underground Cemetery revolves around an unknown sin. Thongyu (Pongsawas Chayatawat)’s house is falling apart. His dead brother, Thongbai (Parama Wutthikornditsakun), visits him and guides him in his quest for redemption. 

In Underground Cemetery, what is conventionally obscure is mundane, and what is conventionally made known is withheld. The apparition of Thongbai walks around Thongyu’s house, changes into a blue shirt, holds his brother’s shoulders, and trudges through the woods as solid as any living creature. Meanwhile, the driving force of the plot, Thongyu’s sin and its surrounding circumstances, remains hidden (we only know it's got something to do with a human rights activist). 

If we regard the film as an exploration of karmic guilt against the backdrop of Thai politics, it would almost seem as if karmic forces, through the figure of Thongbai, and images of organic life and fire, are manifest despite the inscrutability of events. 

The soundtrack of Underground Cemetery is unearthly, ominous, and builds up the uncertain mood of the film. The cawing of birds heralds Thongyu’s guilt and redemption. 

But without a center, suspense falls apart. The plainness of Thongbai’s apparition escapes uncertainty, while the lack of guidance on Thongyu’s sin, whether through narrative or visceral means, makes it difficult for the viewer to be invested in his actions and impulses. 

Sriputsomboon’s exposure in the first instance and obscuration in the latter comes at the cost of psychological weight. Certainly though, Underground Cemetery's ambivalent and absurd dosages of uncertainty make for an interesting reflection on contemporary Thai politics.

Underground Cemetery was screened at the 2021 International Film Festival Rotterdam.  

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