Art of the Devil 2, a sequel in name only, was subject to an intriguing experiment. The film was presided over by no fewer that 7 Thai directors (calling themselves ‘The Ronin Team’) – all assuming various roles in the project, from production to the filming itself. Their goal was to re-introduce real, nail-biting horror to it’s most impressionable demographic: teenagers (see the statement at the end of this review). With this in mind, the directors cast a group of diverse, innocent Thai teens for the roles of the students, and the film mainly centres on their exploits. But thankfully this is not a teen-friendly film, that much I can assure you.
The Ronin Team suceeded, in many ways, in creating an end product that is far removed from the PG-13 fare that has been diluting the mainstream market. Art of the Devil 2 is vicious, bloody and graphic in every minute detail, with a nifty little spooky story to boot. It delves into black magic, Thai folklore, the festering, growing anger of revenge and the lengths one woman would go to attain it.
A group of high school kids stumble upon a tryst between their coach and a well-respected (and beautiful) teacher. The teacher’s son (part of the aforementioned group) sets out to video-record one of their liaisons in the school to prove himself to his disbelieving father. This has drastic and disturbing consequences, as the coach catches them and has his own twisted ideas for the teens.
The story runs deeper when the students seek to exact their own form of revenge by enlisting a shaman to curse the two adulterers. But, in order for the students to truly hex the pair, their own lives become intimately intertwined with the curse. After high school, the tight-knit group heads in their own different career directions, but when they are once again united on a trip to visit the teacher’s son, all hell breaks loose. Not only has the curse come back to haunt them, as promised; but a deeper, bloodier mystery quickly unfolds in the remote Thai jungle, which jeopardizes their friendships and their very lives.
The major theme of Art of the Devil 2 is consequences. Forget all the gore, violence and mish-mash of Khmer magic and folklore, what it comes down to is the repurcussions of your actions; reaping the rewards or paying the price. Choices are strange and often trivial, split-second moments of time and space, but the fallout is often lengthy and drawn out. Like the shaman suggests, the choice of the teens to lay the curse will affect them to the very day they die. Thus is the penalty for their actions and they must be wary of this curse wherever they go, metaphorically and literally. The same ‘laws’ apply to the teacher and the coach as well – with their lustful choices come appropriate consequences. There is almost a downward spiral or domino effect implied in the screenplay for all involved, like telling a lie that leads to deeper and deeper lies. Each action the characters take leads them to another more important action, and in turn, more dire consequences.
For every action, there is a reaction. Simple.
As far as the film itself, the majority is set in the jungle – a harsh and isolated landscape of towering palm trees and winding rivers – with dark corners and endless foot-paths at every turn. This creates a very crushing, anxious feeling about the movie, and there are scares aplenty as we are drawn into this unique and frightening world. This is one of those wonderful paradoxes of film location – the jungle is a vast expanse of thousands of acres of land, but escape is nearly impossible. The teens are forced into a nightmare and they can’t leave or risk splitting up and losing themselves in the labyrinth of emerald trees.
The black magic angle is most noteworthy, in that it creates a mythical world of folklore and magic, like a fantasy-turned-reality. The earthly rules are then allowed to bend somewhat, and the typical teen-slasher gets a fresh batch of clothing with which to adorn itself. There certainly is a creepy voodoo-ish vibe to the entire film, and adds ten-fold to the grimy atmosphere. It’s easy to get lost in the dark fairy-tale aspects, and makes the scares that much more potent. Add to that a final dash of excessive and graphic gore, and you got yourself a winner!
Thailand seems to be a new breeding ground for up-and-coming horror as it catches up to it’s other Asian counterparts. Art of the Devil 2 certainly bounces that credibility up a healthy notch, as fans of everything from ghost stories to fantasy to gore films will no doubt leave this experience with toothy, giddy smiles. If there was any in-fighting amongst the 7 directors, there is no evidence of it here and what emerges is a skillful and taut little torture film. Definitely recommended.
To end, I wanted to share the directors’ mission statement, which is both bizarre and slightly disturbing in and of itself…much like the film it precedes.
The “Ronin Statement”:
”We wanted to reintroduce the world of horror flicks to teens because they present the grey area of righteousness or evil. And during that fragile and innocent time frame of life these characters are introduced to path filled with horror and [g]ore only to be armed with what good they have inherited. Failure of them to survive, would represent the manifestation of pure evil.”