What’s worse than a bad horror film? Well, that answer is simple, its one that isn’t even scary.
Thailand technically hasn’t been regarded as a renowned territory for quality horror, instead being eclipsed by Japan, China and Korea. However, it has made quite the name for itself with films such as Shutter, Coming Soon, Mae Nak and Alone. Formulaic, jumpscare laden, heavy on melodrama and oftentimes derivative of one another, Thai horror has been noted to be rather polarizing for some critics. But, while its not nearly as impactful as its competitors, it still manages to grace us with some of the best scares out there on the market. I don’t think people will be forgetting the ladder scene from Shutter, or the iconic revenge segment from Mae Nak anytime soon. The Promise however, has nothing to go for it, even in the scare department.
Wasted potential. These are two important words I can use to describe this film. The premise at the start actually feels as if it’s building up to a promising title (no pun intended). It revolves around the Sathorn Unique Tower, an abandoned skyscraper in Bangkok that said to be haunted. Two teenagers, Ib and Boum, make a promise that they will purchase a room in the tower to live together in as close friends. However, they soon find their plans to instantly fail. To put it in simple terms, Thailand underwent an economic crisis in the year 1997 (which happened mind you), causing the value of the Thai baht to deflate to ridiculous amounts. This in turn lead to multiple employees being laid off, several businesses shutting down and various individuals offing themselves as they’re faced with the impending doom of bankruptcy. Some even went insane. One perfect establishing shot at the beginning sees Boum’s father conducting a formal business proposal with somebody, only to reveal that he’s talking to nobody but himself. Or maybe, he’s been conducting all of these with a ghost (oooh, spooky). In addition to this, the Sathorn Unique Tower turned from an ambitious project into an abandoned site. Because of their handicapped financial situation and the prospect of never being able to live together in the tower, both Boum and Ib decide to form a suicide pact. However, Boum chickens out and only Ib commits to it in the end. And that’s a perfect way to set up the film, using a real-world scenario to stage a competent psychological horror story. Unfortunately, everything goes downhill after the suicide.
The entire plot after that pivotal moment is about as nonsensical as you can get. Basically, Ib’s spirit decides to haunt Boum, but instead of targeting her specifically, she decides to go after her daughter, Bell. So, to deliver a form of vengeance against Boum, Ib’s ghost decides to possess Bell, using a myriad of ways to kill her, from staged hanging by curtain, to grabbing Boum’s revolver and attempting to blow her own brains out. The whole plot then switches gears to centre on Boum trying to protect her daughter from Ib’s attempts at getting her to off herself. Now, hear me out on this. This just flat out makes no sense. Ib is supposed to be best friends with Boum, so why does she want her to suffer by making her daughter die? She wants to wreck her friend’s life even further by making her feel guilt over not only her death, but also her daughter’s. I mean, what kind of friend does that? If this is a vendetta against her for breaking her promise, why couldn’t she possess Boum and try to make her commit suicide instead? It’ll make better sense in that case, since it tells use explicitly that Ib feels a sense of loneliness in the afterlife and longs for Boum to keep her company. The rest of the film could then be about Bell being the one to try and foil Ib’s plans. Other than that, Ib’s attempts at getting revenge just feels mean-spirited. I mean, I wouldn’t even do that to my worse enemy, let alone my best friend.
Boum as a character suffers from varying degrees of character derailment and blotched characterization. For one, her backstory. We are told, yes told, that her husband died sometime during the timeskip. How did he die? What was her relationship with him like? Well, we’ll never know because other than that, he is never mentioned anymore throughout the film. In fact, she feels absolutely content without him in the picture, and so does her daughter it seems. We also see her character try to commit heinous acts to stop her daughter’s suicide, from threatening to fire a group of starving construction workers, to endangering the life of a child. She even goes as far as to threaten to murder Ib’s innocent mother, who already feels distraught about her daughter’s unexpected suicide. This not only shapes Boum into a rather unpleasant and unsympathetic character, but its yet another element that makes it clear that Ib’s plan makes no sense. Clearly this shows how much of a wonderful friend she is, am I right?
The point where the movie’s plot collapses in a sea of contrivances begins when she meets this boy at the Sathorn Unique Tower, who could apparently see ghosts. Throughout the whole film, this kid is the only person who can actually see Ib, and we are given absolutely no reason why. No other character in the show can see her but him. He has no connection to Ib whatsoever, he’s just some random kid playing at the construction site. In other words, he’s a plot device designed so we as the audience can catch glimpses of Ib’s spirit form from his perspective. We are given no explanation as to why he’s a psychic medium, just that he can see her. To make matters worse, Boum decides to endanger his life by forcing him to come with her so she can commune with her dead best friend, all in front of his family. I mean, sure, she threatened them with dismissal from their jobs had they refused (she is at the head of operations regarding the Sathorn Complex construction), but not once did they decide to maybe send one of their workers or even have his mother tag along for his safety. I thought Thai families had a lot of attachment towards their kin, yet somehow his mother is willing to just let him go off alone with this mentally unhinged woman. Anyways, the two climb the top most floors of the abandoned building and try to commune with Ib. Instead of posing as a threat to them, she instead just toys with the two characters. If her goal was to have Boum filled with so much guilt, why not have this be the perfect opportunity to kill off the kid? I mean if you’re going that far to kill her daughter as a way to drive her to suicide, why not ruin her life to rub salt to the wound? But nope, she just dangles him in mid air for a few seconds and then proceeds to troll them some more. What is this, the Thai rendition of Peeves the Poltergeist?
The Promise has quite possibly the worse usage of jumpscares I’ve seen in a long time. Just ask yourself this, what makes a terrifying jumpscare? Is it one that utilizes obnoxious stock sound effects? Is it showcasing supernatural spirits leaping out at you from hiding spots? Nope, its instilling genuine fear into the audience. Horror auteurs fully understand this concept and make full use of it in short bursts to terrify movie goers. In fact, the best horror flicks barely use jumpscares. Take Hereditary, a recently released horror flick, for example. It has only one very effective jumpscare towards the end of the film, the rest is focused entirely on psychological terror and on creating disturbing imagery, which are far more potent techniques. The Promise however, relies entirely on fake scares to progress the narrative. Something falls from the ceiling and makes a loud noise, the lights suddenly turn on prompting an audible violin sound effect to be emitted, instances like that. Its just used to startle audiences, rather than keep them on their toes.
And that brings me to my next issue with this film: its just not scary. The Promise is honestly one of the least chilling flicks I’ve seen in quite a while. For the entire duration of the film, you barely catch a glimpse of the ghost. No, I’m serious here, you never get to see her. Even when you do, its angled in such a way that diminishes the scare effect. In Ladda Land and other horror flicks, the scares are often cheap, but also slightly effective since we’re able to see the spirits. This isn’t the case with The Promise, where sightings are limited to only short glimpses of her. Even the poster itself reveals more of her ghostly figure than the film does. Oh wow, she’s sitting at the edge of the construction site in the distance, kicking her feet in the air. Lame!
What the hell happened with this? What started off as a nice spiritual successor to Ladda Land, turned out to be nothing more than a complete mess, both as a jumpscare filled horror flick and as a narrative. The only positives I can give are that the acting is top notch, especially considering that these are possibly the first main roles for these actresses. The cinematography is outstanding for a film of this caliber, leading to some nice, wallpaper-worthy shots dispersed throughout the film.
Final verdict: 3/10
PS: Stay tuned guys, for I’m actually heading to Thailand this December. Planning to take a bunch of photos there with the intention of posting them both on here and on my Instagram account. Some of them will include actual shots of the Sathorn Unique Tower, so feel free to have a look at them.