Ever since Christopher Doyle jumped ship Ratanaruang (Ruang Talok 69) his popularity has been declining. Truth be told, his more recent films aren't as accessible as his earlier ones either. Ploy was excruciatingly slow, Nymph isn't much livelier. Not necessarily a bad thing though as Ratanaruang transforms Nymph into a slow yet creepy and atmospheric little horror-drama. Definitely not for everyone, but hardened Ratanaruang fans should definitely take notice.
The film's opening sequence is one that deserves some extra attention. A marvelous, long-winding tracking shot that actually fails to track the events happening on screen. It's a weird and mysterious introduction (not) following two guys running after a girl with obvious malicious intent in the middle of the woods. The camera sways and follows its own path while the action happens somewhere out of view, sometimes audible, sometimes completely eclipsed by the dense forest. The shot ends with the aftermath, which is not entirely what you might be expecting.
This first scene feels almost like a related short film tacked in front of the film. It's an awesome piece of cinema but the integration into the film could've been a little better. After the introduction the story start with a young couple taking a little camping trip into these same woods. Their relationship is obviously suffering and the trip isn't doing much good. While the both of them are exploring the woods separately the husband happens onto a strange tree which holds a rather strange attraction to people.
When he doesn't return to camp later that evening the woman freaks out and starts an uncoordinated search with little results. From there on things get a bit more mysterious, with the title continuously pushing the somewhat vague and unexplained events into a certain direction. This film isn't called Nymph for no reason of course and while Ratanaruang never bothers to put any superstition or legend into the background, it's obvious there's more to this particular tree than simple wood and leafs.
Even though Doyle is out of the picture, Ratanaruang makes sure to keep his films visually interesting. The tracking shot from the introduction is legendary, apart from that there's lovely play with natural lighting bringing out striking colors without too much post processing filters and other visual trickery. The night shots might be a little too dark at times, but those occasions are quite rare. Camera work is strong too, although maybe a little too agile at times.
This being a horror film the soundtrack is very important and this is where Ratanaruang shines (once again). Many directors these days reach out to some ambient tunes to increase the tension, but Ratanaruang's obvious love for the genre gives him a definite edge. Excellent choice of music and perfect timing, making the film all the more tense and dropping plenty of atmosphere where needed.
There are only a handful of actors with limited interaction and dramatic scenes. Mostly they are walking through the forest or simply doing their own thing. Still, where needed they put in good performances making the dramatic parts all the more believable. Pretty necessary too as the horror aspect simply represents the top layer of the film.
Don't expect a simple wrap-up with an explosive finale. Much of what is happening is left to the imagination of the viewer, with only the dramatic portion of the story getting a real ending. The horror part of the story remains vague and, much like the opening, happens off-screen, even outside the boundaries of the actual film.
The film is not so much about horror as it is about mystery and atmosphere. The tension coming from the soundtrack coupled with the title of the film is all that is needed to get the viewer's imagination rolling, so no apparitions, no gore, not even a single drop of blood. Be prepared if you go in expecting a "real" horror flick because it will only end in disappointment.
Nymph is a good film by all means, it's just not all that commercial. The slow pacing and vague events will push away many potential viewers, but if you've liked Ratanaruang's previous films this is definitely a good bet. There is plenty of atmosphere, a nice underlying drama and a good portion of mystery. Recommended but only for the initiated.