Film Review – Cracked
The Thai horror film Cracked (2022) creates effective creepiness with limited resources. Utilizing a small cast and a few locations, director Surapong Ploensang (who co-writes with Orunusa Donsawai and Pun Homchuen) evokes mood with relative ease. While the overall narrative is thin in terms of story and character, the craftsmanship on display makes for an engaging viewing experience. It’s a nuts-and-bolts kind of a movie, operating with efficiency even as it traverses disturbing territory. It comes in, does what it needs to do and takes off without overstaying its welcome. Although I never got that chill down my spine as I do watching a really scary horror flick, there wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t fully invested with what was happening.
Ploensang’s direction is at its best when building dread as opposed to moments of shock. Working with cinematographer Natdanai Naksuwarn, Ploesang constructs early scenes with a haunting quality. An image of a person’s feet as they are hung from their neck is juxtaposed with that of a child’s feet dangling over the edge of a bed, creating an unnerving atmosphere. A high angled shot looking down a twisting staircase calls to mind the anxiety-inducing sequences from Vertigo (1958). Color is used to amplify terror. The visuals are bathed in wet greens, blues, and greys. Occasionally, Ploensang will cut through this palette with a bright color (usually red), to create a sharp, otherworldly contrast. Other times, when the narrative dives into scenes of high emotion, the lighting will intensify the yellows and browns. I found myself more affected by the anticipation of the horror as opposed to the horror itself.
Location plays a major factor in maintaining tone. The action takes place in a secluded house deep in the forest of Thailand. Taking a page out of other spooky haunted house films – The Others (2001) being a prime example – the production uses the surrounding landscape as a barrier preventing characters from escape. The thick brush, trees, vines, and marshes makes traveling by foot or vehicle difficult. Rain is an active participant, forcing characters to stay indoors. In classic horror tradition, lightning and thunder are a heavy presence. When it’s not raining, fog comes into play, obstructing any points of exit. Characters try to make a break for it, but the environment causes them to run around in circles. When it comes to ghosts, hauntings, and spirits descending upon a person’s home, our first reaction is to ask, “Why don’t they just leave?” Ploensang solves this problem successfully without ever having mother nature shoehorned into the story.
But it’s that very story where things come up short. It’s not a requirement for a movie to have an intricate plot to be good, but it does need to have some sense development for us to connect with. In that sense, Cracked feels too light to build any real stakes. Ruja (Chayanit Chansangavej) is a single mom living in New York and raising her half-American/half-Thai daughter, Rachael (Nutthatcha Padovan). Rachel’s increasing blindness has caused a financial strain for Ruja. An opportunity arrives when art dealer Wichai (Sahajak Boonthanakit) informs her that her late father has left his home in Thailand and all his paintings to her as an inheritance. Ruja (with Rachael in hand) travels back to her childhood house in hopes of selling the property and art pieces for a hefty sum. Two paintings, both depicting a mysterious woman, are of particular interest to buyers. However, due to age and cracking in the paint, both pieces need major restoration. An art restorer, Tim (Nichkhun) is hired to bring the paintings back to their former glory.
Thematically, Cracked touches on several topics, including family, tragedy, revenge, and guilt. At the center is the notion of childhood trauma, and how the lingering effects of the past can affect younger generations. Ruja has gone through very dark experiences, and that informs the way she raises and protects Rachel. However, the writing and direction does not explore these avenues thoroughly. They are skimmed over in favor of a revenge plot that isn’t nearly as interesting. Because of this, the central message gets muddied. Instead of characters coming to terms with who they are and moving on to be wiser people, the movie argues for the opposite. Characters would rather suppress, ignore, and not acknowledge the evils of the past. A line of dialogue suggests that pretending that monsters (an allegory for our sins) are not real, then nothing bad can happen to us. Is it healthy to run away from our problems instead of dealing with them? If we close our eyes and refuse to admit the existence of our personal monsters, isn’t that letting them win?
I mentioned earlier that Ploensang’s direction works best in creating the anticipation of a scare than the actual scare. When the moment of fright happens, the editing will cut away before anything too graphic or gory is shown. There are a lot of fake outs littered throughout, much of which are the result of dreams or fantasies. Things really get going once we arrive at the climax, where the execution features some clever blending between flashbacks and present events. The camera will drift back and forth, showing how some misdeeds have led to dire consequences. Characters will be standing side by side with old friends and family as hidden secrets are revealed. It’s a fun scene highlighting several cinematic techniques. The problem is that by the time we arrive at this critical juncture, it’s too little too late.
Cracked proves that establishing a consistent vibe goes a long way in a film’s effectiveness. Despite awkwardly handled theming and a skeletal story, the feeling of trepidation carries us from beginning to end. It’s not the kind of “scary” that keeps us up at night long after seeing it. But in the moment, Ploesang creates enough tension to keep us gripped into seeing how things unfold.