First things first, if you loved or hated the first Art Of The Devil film, don't automatically assume that you'll love or hate this sequel as it really has nothing to do with the original film, making it a sequel in name only. While it deals with a few similar themes, there's no need to see the original before seeing this film, they're not really related at all (in fact this one sort of plays like a more interesting, nastier version of I Know What You Did Last Summer with doses of Audition thrown in for good measure).
The story follows a group of six high school students who despise their gym teacher. Why? Because he's a jerk, basically. He's a tempermental man who isn't afraid to get rough with the students when it suits him, and he's a bit of pervert, she's using one of the kids' mothers for sex, and he's just a nasty person with seemingly no redeeming qualities whatsoever. To take care of the teacher once and for all, our heroes decide to seek out a voodoo priest/witch doctor type from Cambodia to work some sinister mojo for them which results in the gym teacher's horrifying death in which fishhooks pop out of his skin (a great way to open a film, really). Before this expert in black magic makes this happen, however, the kids are warned that they will be responsible for whatever karmic retribution should be laid upon them for this act, and that it just might come back to haunt them somewhere down the line. Of course, being impulsive young people, they pay no attention to his warnings, they just want their enemy dead.
With that nastiness out of the way, life moves on for the group and all but one of them leaves the small town that they grew up in once high school is finished. The one who stuck around, Ta, didn't do so by choice, he got locked up in prison for a crime he wasn't really responsible for – the drowning of his only brother. As the years pass, he's released back into the general population and shortly after that, he finds his father dead. His old friends all return home to attend the funeral, and once they do, strange and sinister things soon start happening, things that remind them what they did all those years ago…
Oddly enough, Art Of The Devil 2 was directed not by a solitary director, as is usually the case with a feature film, but by a group of seven Thai directors known as the Ronin Team. This is an interesting approach to filmmaking and it lends itself to some very creative and unique moments, but at the same time, it's also obvious that there was more than one person guiding this movie as there are definitely some disjointed spots. The plot jumps around quite a bit, back and forth in time and from character to character, which makes for some confusion here and there as well as some flat out bad ideas in terms of how the story is told – this does affect the movie in a negative way. That being said, the kill scenes and the lead ups to some of those kills scenes are fantastic and where the multiple directors hurt the film from a narrative stand point, it obviously helped with the murder set pieces. There are some wonderfully twisted moments in here, far stronger than the admittedly gruesome moments that made the first film as popular as it was.
Though there's definitely more to the film than just the gore scenes, the gore scenes are what it handles the best. The acting is good (in fact the female lead, Napakpapah Nakprasit, won the Thai equivalent of an Oscar for her performance in the film, which is surprising considering how grisly it is), the cast of performers assembled for the feature do just fine with the material (though watching the English dubbed version of the film detracts from the performances considerably as the dubbing doesn't really suit the performers of the movie particularly well) even if they're not re-inventing the wheel with how they handle some of the more unusual situations that they encounter. The movie also has some great atmosphere, helped in no small part by some interesting and unique Thailand locations and sets that give the movie it's distinct feel.
Ultimately, however, the story just tries to cram too many characters involved in too many situations into its running time which results in a film that suffers from bland character development and a few loose ends that could have been tied up in a more satisfactory manner. Thankfully, the sheer ballsiness of the gore in the film overshadows pretty much everything else, making this a rather visceral and intense horror film even if it isn't one that will leave you thinking once the shock wears off. That ultimately means that Art Of The Devil 2 is worth seeing for the creative kills and the splendidly bloody effects work, not for the story – but hey, it works.
Media Blasters presents Art Of The Devil 2 in a decent but not quite 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) 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 there is some obvious and intentional color manipulation in a few scenes.
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 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. 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 of the text can cause some head scratching, but overall things are alright in the audio department and the kill scenes sound nice and squishy.
The main supplement on this release is a decent roughly twenty-minute long behind the scenes documentary that is presented in Thai with English subtitles. It gives us a few talking head style 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 mind blowing here but if you want a closer look at how Art Of The Devil 2 was put together, it works nicely. It also gives us a look at some of the effects work as it was in progress, which is a nice touch, as a few of the more memorable set pieces are illustrated in these moments.
While it's got its fare share of problems, Art Of The Devil 2 looks and sounds decent enough on DVD with this release. The movie itself is a bit of a head scratcher as far as the plot is concerned but it definitely delivers some bizarre and inventive thrills of a distinctly gruesome nature. Recommended for Asian horror enthusiasts who don't mind some healthy dollops of gore!
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.