One of the few cinematic exports from Thailand to recently hit North America that isn't somehow affiliated with the Pang Brothers or Tony Jaa, Art Of The Devil is a decent supernatural thriller that regurgitates a lot of the clichés now associated with Asian horror, albeit with a uniquely Thai perspective.
Boom is a gorgeous young woman who meets the acquaintance of a rich businessman at a night club one night. One thing leads to another and he takes her home for a night of carnal fun. Two months later and she tells him that he's pregnant, and that she's going to need him to help her out financially. He buys her off with a sizeable amount of cash but somehow manages to assume that this gives him the right to allow his pals to gang rape her on the beach one night while he videotapes it all. It's not long before he winds up dead, and six months later his common law wife and the kids that he had with her move into his fancy waterfront house and inherit all of his wealth, leaving Boom without a penny and more than a little ticked about that.
As we get to know the new family that has moved into the house, we find out that the older son is dating a pretty woman who looks strangely familiar. Shortly after we realize that yeah, he's dating daddy's mistress and plans to marry her. Unfortunately for everyone in the family, people start winding up dead from increasingly bizarre events – one boy is smothered in eels, the other pukes up razor blades during a Buddhist ceremony. A reporter on the scene sees some connections to past events that tie Boom into all of this, and his expertise in the supernatural gives him the knowledge he needs to sort it all out but will he be able to stop Boom's voodoo style revenge from killing everyone off before it's too late or will he too become a victim of the art of the devil? And what's with the weird albino kid hanging out upstairs and making weird drawings with the youngest son in the family?
Not particularly inventive in its storytelling methods, the film starts off with a scene that takes place in the later part of the story which in turn removes a lot of the suspense from the film as we already know who the killer is. With that in mind, some of the voodoo murders and practices that we get a chance to check out as the plot unfolds are pretty inventive and there are enough ugly murders in the last half of the movie to keep things interesting and a little unsettling. Yes, there are definitely times where the movie borrows from other horror movies to come from the east, and the ghostly little kid running around upstairs definitely feels like something out of Ring or the Ju-On series albeit with a bleached out complexion and hair-do, but the Thai setting and cultural aspects of the story do serve to differentiate it from the herd just enough that it works.
In terms of the acting, no one really stands out as giving an exceptionally good performance but all involved do fine with the material and everyone is believable enough in rather unbelievable settings that we're able to accept that these people are going through what they're going through. The cinematography is quite good and the camera makes sure that we see everything we need to when Boom's victims finally meet their maker. It takes us a little while to get there but the story builds nicely to a pretty intense crescendo which relieves some of the predictability a little bit.
In the end, there are definitely better horror movies out there but there are also a lot worse as well and this one does deliver enough gore and enough suspense in a few scenes that despite the flaws that the script slaps us outside the head with it is worth a look for those who appreciate horror done Asian style.
Media Blasters presents Art Of The Devil in a decent but far from perfect 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that does a pretty nice job of capturing the mood and atmosphere of the film. While the image does have its flaws (there are a few scenes with some mild motion blurring and a few others that have a bit more print damage than you might expect to see on a film this recent – and once again, the image has not been flagged for progressive scan playback) it is definitely acceptable. Edge enhancement is only present in a couple of scenes and there are no issues with mpeg compression artifacts. The picture has a pretty nice level of foreground and background detail in it and skin tones look lifelike. Color reproduction is decent but at times the image looks a little on the flat side and the greens look a little too pale (though this could be an artistic choice).
Thankfully, the audio on this release is pretty much problem free. Media Blasters have given viewers the option of watching the film in English in either a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix or a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix, or in the film's native Thai language in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound. Optional subtitles are available in English. Dialogue is crisp and clear and comes through without any hiss or distortion and the surrounds are used well during the more intense moments of the film to build mood and atmosphere. The bass levels are strong but not overpowering and the levels seem to be set precisely where they should be as there aren't any issues with the sound effects or moody background music overshadowing the performers in the film. It's a shame that more thought wasn't put into the subtitles as there are a few key moments in the film where some un-translated text can cause some head scratching, but overall things are alright in the audio department.
The main supplement on this release is a decent twenty minute behind the scenes documentary that is presented in Thai with English subtitles. It gives us a few impromptu interviews with the cast and crew members as well as some interesting on set footage shot while the production was being made. There's nothing really super mind blowing here but if you want a closer look at how Art Of The Devil was put together, it should fit the bill nicely.
Aside from that, we get interactive menus, chapter selection options, and audio set up menu, and a few trailers for other unrelated Tokyo Shock DVD releases.
Art Of The Devil is an average quality horror film with a couple of stand out set pieces and a unique cultural take that makes it worth a look for fans of Asian horror cinema. It's not breaking any new ground and it's completely predictable but it is a fun ride none the less and makes for a good solid two hours of creepy entertainment. A solid rental for all, a marginal recommendation for Asian cinema fanatics.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.