Mystical and Mystifying: Krabi 2562 – Reviewed

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The modern day and the past overlap in this dreamlike collaborative feature from directors Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong, finds Mike Pinnington…  

Detective story, ghost story, travelogue; a eulogy to cinema and a cold-eyed look at tourism. Set in and around the titular southern Thai province made famous by Danny’s Boyle’s film, The Beach (2000), Krabi 2562 is all and none of these things. A mixture of unreliable narration and seemingly real-life testimony, it expertly blurs documentary and fiction so that you can never quite see the joins. Some of the people we meet along the way are simply, apparently, telling it like it is. As they see it. Local histories, folklore, and the supernatural jostle for position with the day-to-day.

Our principal character, if we can call them that, is the film location scout – or is she a market researcher, as she later claims? Following a local guide around tourist-heavy sites of potential interest, she is by turns cagey and enigmatic. She pops up again later for a look at a disused cinema which, she tells the former manager, was where her parents first met. She then does a disappearing act reminiscent of Kristen Stewart’s Valentine in Olivier Assayas’ 2014 film, Clouds of Sils Maria. Where did she go? We never find out, but the mystery serves to provide an abstract, meditative quality that co-directors Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong cultivate across the film’s 94-minute running time.

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We revisit the busy guide and are given an insight into her life when not on the clock. Her experience with the location scout notwithstanding, her time on-camera is mostly unremarkable. There’s an awkward, pointed scene with a pair of recently arrived Americans as the guide grabs a breather and some food at a street café. Tucking into her meal, she is called upon by the café owner to recommend something that isn’t ‘too spicy’ to the grateful Americans, who lack both the linguistic and culinary chops to order for themselves. Returning to her food, the tourists – imposing as fish-out-water tourists are apt to do – ask whether they can join her at her table. So begins the guide’s timeworn patter of where they should visit in their Western travellers’ box-ticking exercise.

This brief look at the day-to-day both offsets and complements the more supernatural and mystical elements of the film, including one woman’s recounting of her brushes with the dead, delivered matter-of-fact. It is just one example of Rivers and Suwichakornpong’s skilful juxtaposing of the fantastical with the quotidian. Elsewhere, and weirder still, is the drinks advert shoot taking place at the beach. In-between takes, the ad’s star wanders off to relieve himself in the relative seclusion of some trees, when he is caught in the act, by an intrigued interloper – a caveman no less. Here, time and space seem to collapse so that late capitalism’s vulgarities rub up against prehistory’s naïveté.

Krabi 2562 is both deeply mystical and mystifying. But around and in-between the film’s more inscrutable elements – you must decide almost from the get-go to just roll with whatever it throws your way – is a strong philosophical core. In its dreamlike unfolding of the layers of a modest town made famous to the point of jaded, it asks questions pertinent to humankind’s relationship with and impact on an otherwise idyllic land.

Mike Pinnington

Krabi 2562 is available to buy on Blu-ray now

Posted on 30/09/2020 by thedoublenegative