It's rare that a horror film that will simultaneously explore demonic possession and the sordid lives of Bangkok go go dancers, but P does, and pretty well. The first Thai language film to be filmed by a westerner, Brit Paul Spurrier, P glides along at its own pace, taking its time and foregoing over the top splatter, and delivering a much more nuanced horror experience.
Dau (Suangporn Jaturaphut) is a rural Thai girl, trained in magic from her youth by her grandmother. She is lured to Bangkok when grandmother takes ill and they don't have enough money for medicine. Unknown to Dau, whose real name is Aaw, which is considered too difficult for foreigners to pronounce thus the name change, her job is in a go go bar. At first, she is shy and awkward, comforted by her friend Pookie (Opal) after her first sexual experience with a bar patron, learning to dance seductively for the men and the tricks of the trade. The P Bar, where she works, like most other go go bars in Bangkok, is essentially a place where foreign men can pick up prostitutes.
Dau quickly takes to life at the bar, and just as quickly begins to use magic to help herself along. She casts a spell to make herself more attractive, and begins to steal clients away from other girls. This causes considerable animosity among her co-workers, particularly in May (Narisara Sairatanee), the main dancer and star of the club. In order to kibosh Dau's chances at taking the top spot, May sabotages her audition with some Vaseline on the go go pole. When Dau learns of the treachery, she casts another kind of spell, a more dangerous kind, to teach May a little lesson. Unfortunately, the little lesson turns into something more, and May's face is horribly disfigured, ending her career. Though Dau is regretful, she now begins her slow descent into something evil.
Spurrier pulls a neat trick, in that Dau is easily the most sympathetic character in the film, one which the audience truly likes and wishes well for, and at the same time she is the villain, a hideous creature that goes out at night killing people and devouring them. She unwittingly violates several magical rules: passing under a clothes line, eating raw meat and accepting payment for a spell, though the payment is only a kiss on the forehead from Pookie. This seems innocent enough behavior, but it opens Dau up to infernal forces, and the evil enters into her body and controls her actions whenever she goes to sleep.
When May's friends go to a local sorcerer to try and exact revenge for their friend's injury, the viewer both wants to see Dau's villainy stopped and to see her survive and be happy. She is simultaneously sympathetic and repellant. Her quiet friendship with Pookie, which may be blossoming into love, makes the viewer hope desperately that they can find peace together. But Dau also kills and eats a child, along with a lot of unsavory western men. This divided sympathy comprises much of the dramatic force of the film.
P is not a film of high energy thrills and whiz bang action. It has a few effective jump scares, but these are merely bonuses thrown into the mix. The film succeeds best at developing and maintaining a discomfiting feeling. The effort is in the atmosphere, not the big payoff. The viewer is most disturbed because they feel real affection for the person committing the hideous deeds they see on the screen.
P is not a film for all tastes. Its deliberate pace and focus on character development and atmosphere will turn away those looking for quick scares and exploitation. For those ready to spend a couple of quiet hours feeling disturbed and conflicted, this subtle film will fit the bill.
P Behind the Scenes
Soi Cowboy Gogo Bars