The Promise

The Promise, a 2017 Thai horror film from director Sophon Sakdaphisit, is all about the bond between two best friends, Ib and Boum. When the market crash of 1997 sees the abrupt end of their family’s fortune and stability, the two ultimately make a suicide pact. But when one of them backs out at the last minute, they’ll discover that some promises are impossible to break.

This is technically a horror movie. Technically.

I don’t know exactly who The Promise is for. It’s not a bad movie by any means. But it’s clear it’s either not sure what it wants, or what it wanted to be is such a safe compromise of ideas that it’s not really for anyone.

Like, it’s very much a drama. The first act is all about these two girls, their friendship, and the slow destruction of both of their families and lives. Their fathers were businessmen at the top of their game who lose everything when the market crashes–their money and their sanity. And the rest of the film is really the surviving girl struggling with the aftermath in the years after–the death of her friend, the damage to her family, and the guilt she has.

It’s also technically a horror movie, because it involves a haunting by way of a spiteful, angry spirit. Except that stuff all comes much later. Arguably too late. So much so that it’s really more just the logical extreme of a character dealing with an insane amount of guilt and depression and PTSD.

Like, if you were gonna tell this slow-burn tale of guilt and remorse, then just tell that story. There’s no need to inject a supernatural element to the story so late and then keep it so minimal. It’s not scary. It’s not thrilling. It just detracts from–and eats up time that could be spent on–a more compelling, grounded drama of a woman unraveling after such a tragic event. Or simply a girl dealing with the immediate aftermath of her friend’s suicide.

But by forcing in the horror stuff, it all seems so shallow. There’s not enough focus on the really interesting character work. Nor is there a focus on the horror stuff. This is a drama that races to abandon being a drama so it can be a horror movie. And in that case, why not just tell a horror story? Why focus on the family drama and friendship so much when you could just have the movie start with the suicide pact and continuing from there with all sorts of creepy, spooky stuff?

Insecurity and indecision are the bane of good storytelling. Movies have a strict time limit, which means they demand a clear, concise vision. Failure to do so results in tonal inconsistencies and sudden, dramatic shifts in tone, style, themes, and concept. Small mistakes become bigger and more noticable. And stories can be cut off at the knees mid-stride, even if they started strong. You need to make a choice and stick to it, see it through to the end.

Unfortunately, The Promise is as indecisive as its main character and twice as disappointing.

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