Project Hashima (Hachima Porchekt): Film Review

M39 Pictures
Melodrama and other distractions deflate any horror in a piece which makes spare use of its titular location.

Piyapan Choopetch's paranormal thriller sees five Thai filmmakers struggle with the after-effects of a location shoot on Hashima, the abandoned Japanese island which inspired the villain's den in "Skyfall".

When one of Project Hashima's inevitably ill-fated protagonists tempts fate by messing with some possessions of the dead, he shrugs and states how "rules are meant to be broken". Well, the supposedly spine-tingler of a story he's part of has indeed ruptured a few horror-film maxims, but not in a good way: by overwhelming the sporadic short-sharp shocks with teen-romance melodrama - bizarre love triangles and licentious loan sharks ahoy - producer-writer Adirek "Uncle" Wattaleela has delivered a stuttering thriller which outstays its welcome.

Perhaps it's worthy to note how scenes set on Hashima - the once vibrant but now entirely abandoned Japanese island which inspired Sam Mendes' vision of the villain's den in Skyfall - only takes up about half an hour of Project's 118-minute runtime. With director Piyapan Choopetch and his DP Nattawut Kittikhun falling short of fully capitalizing even the eerie atmospherics of Hashima - where crumbling tenement buildings still stand decades after they were vacated - the build-up and the aftermath of the characters' ill-advised island adventure are even more lackluster.

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Having just opened in Vietnam and Hong Kong in the past fortnight and set to unspool in Singapore on Mar. 27, Project - which opened in Thailand last Halloween - is unlikely to cross more international thresholds beyond these shores. It's certainly not going to break the Japanese market anytime soon, what with its misshapen take on Hashima (which, in reality, has never been regarded as a paranormal hub, let alone "the top five haunted places on Earth", as explained in the film), its single-tracked depiction of the country's folk traditions (it's all about female ghosts in kimonos) and pale duplicates of J-Horror templates (with Ringu casting the heaviest shadow on it all).

Before all that, however, Project Hashima commences as if it's positioning itself as a Thai version of Blair Witch Project. When the film begins, five young Thais are seen wandering around a dark mansion, shooting footage of the bloody chaos within and then running for their lives as a specter jumps into view; the screen suddenly freezes, and the viewer is then to realize that the sequence is a staged horror-film, one that the quintet is hawking to a film producer (played by real-life filmmaker Nonzee Nimibutr of Nang Nak and Jan Dara fame).

Unable to get a deal, the five film-school graduates uploaded the clip to YouTube, and somehow caused a sensation by chalking up six-digit views in just days. On the strength of this, the aspiring filmmakers is offered a deal by a TV production outfit company to shoot a horror-driven TV program on Hashima, with all expenses paid. Cue the production placements, as the characters discuss buying travel insurance before departing and then, upon arrival, are somehow shown enjoying a grand time at a theme park in Nagasaki.

But amidst all this the characters are given some kind of texture by falling into type: there's the alpha-male Off (Alexander Rendell) and his plain but diligent girlfriend Nan (rom-com/horror star Apinya Sakulkaroensuk, most recently seen in Rotterdam indie entry Concrete Clouds); the needy beauty May (Sushar Manaying); the sensitive, artistic Nick (Pirat Nipitpaisalkul); and the long-haired oddball Dog (Mek Mekwattana). Somehow at odds with the suspense needed for the genre, Adirek's screenplay instead elects to expand these characters on romance and soap-opera twists: many a suppressed emotion exists among these fivesome, and personal trials and tribulations which are either left underdeveloped (such as Nick's struggle to consolidate his first step on the slippery ladder of showbusiness) or swerved towards something distinctly at variance with a ghost story (when one of Off's friends pay the price for the gambling debts he chalked up).

These distractions run the risk of the film's Hashima-set showpiece an afterthought - and it's all because the central premise is very shaky. Rather than employing Hashima's extraordinary history as a narrative backbone - the once-flourishing community, nicknamed the "Battleship Island" for its crowded concrete appearance, quickly descends into a no-man's-land when its coal mines shut down in 1974 - the remarkably untouched buildings only served as the backdrop of a half-baked story about a jilted wife cursing the island upon her death.

Just as much as the five young filmmakers seem not to know what they were looking for on the island, Project Hashima's makers haven't really thought through the story they want to tell with their extraordinary set. While the film's final twist does revolve around a character's silly stunt on the deadly island - rule-breakers are destined to have themselves broken, or something like that - what follows is just a lot of screaming and running around as a Japanese ghost wreaks havoc in their lives back in Bangkok. Rather than making broad and loud gestures - something also symbolised by the overwhelming score from frequent Pang Brothers collaborator Peyont Pernsith (The Detective, Re-Cycle) Project Hashima would have been better off bringing home some Japanese-style repression and subtlety.


Production Company: ForFilms, in a presentation by M39 Pictures

Director: Piyapan Choopetch

Cast: Apinya Sakulkaroensuk, Pirat Nipitpaisalkul, Alexander Rendell, Sushar Manaying, Mek Mekwattana, Sho Nishino

Producer: Adirek Wattaleela, Jatima Liawsirikun

Writer: Adirek Wattaleela

Director of Photography: Nattawut Kittikhun

Editors: Pitipong Suppatpong, Uncle (Adirek Wattaleela)

Production Designer: Patchara Lertkai

Music: Payont Permsith

In Thai

No rating, 118 minutes