The Blue Hour
Written by Anucha Boonyawatana and Waasuthep Ketpetch
Directed by Anucha Boonyawatana
The Blue Hour is a beautiful, dark and mysterious ghost story from Thai filmmaker Anucha Boonyawatana. Tam (Atthaphan Poonsawas) is a gay teen who doesn’t fit in at school or within his family. He arranges a meeting with the dashing Phum (Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang) at an abandoned swimming pool. Their hook-up quickly develops into something more serious as they find comfort and safety in each other’s friendship. As their relationship progresses, Tam’s life becomes increasingly confused as he struggles to differentiate dream from reality.
When we first see Tam he has just been badly beaten by his classmates; his adolescent body is bruised, and his cherub face is swollen. We feel his fear when he shows up to the meeting with Phum, because the world has never been kind to him. Even this early in the film, we understand that this meeting, should it go wrong, could easily lead to violence. Trust comes slow to Tam and Phum. Boonyawatana builds their closeness through a carefully orchestrated sex scene. In a dirty and abandoned bathroom attached to the pool, the boys start kissing. Out of fear of intimacy or pain from his bruised lips, Tam pulls back. The two boys start holding each other delicately but their embrace becomes increasingly confident and passionate. The scene feels like an incredible release for the pair, a literal and spiritual release of tension.
The spell of their romance though, is short-lived, because their love is stacked against an unforgiving reality. Tam’s sexuality means he will always be a disappointment. Because he is gay, if Tam is ridiculed, beaten or even killed, society will deem it somehow his fault. In a heart-wrenching monologue, Phum talks about the fact that because of his sexuality, the world expects so much more from him. He has already betrayed his parents, so if he is not successful it is only doubly shameful. Tam and Phum find solace in each other because normal society does not accept them.
Far from a traditional genre film, The Blue Hour is incredibly suspenseful. The sense of dread is built through character and circumstance. There is nothing cheap or easy about the film’s horror, which makes it particularly immersive. The horror is built from the weight of the social expectations. Through no fault of their own, Tam and Phum will never be safe because society does not accept them. Their role as outcasts, because of their sexuality, not only means they will be targeted but also that there will be no justice served if anything were to happen to them. This only strengthens their bond as they are also increasingly alienated from normal reality. Tam, in particular, begins to find himself lost in waking dreams. Violence and ghostly presences begin to haunt him. As his sense of reality starts to waver, so does the audience’s, but Phum’s presence remains consistent and supportive.
Not all the narrative threads quite come together in The Blue Hour, and it’s a huge testament to the film that it doesn’t really matter. The movie is sensual, mysterious and tense. The mood draws you in deeply, and it just makes you crave for more. This is one of the few films this year I’m already eager to rewatch — it’s a magical world, full of hints, deceptions and paranoia.
– Justine Smith