Who Are You (or Who R U - depending on where you look for information) is one of the latest entries in the Thai horror genre. The film strays a little from the traditional Asian horror fare, keeping the ghosts and apparitions to a minimum, instead focusing more on drama and aesthetics. The result is a beautifully shot horror film that deserves a wider audience, though people expecting a simple horror fix might be a little disappointed.
People have some rigid preconceptions about Asian horror films, but the Thai horror scene is actually quite diverse. Of course there are the films riding along on the not-so-recent-anymore wave of Asian suspense films (think Shutter and Alone), but if you're more into gore and shock the Art of the Devil series will kindly serve your needs. Then there are some popular anthology projects (Phobia, Phobia 2) which also hint at said diversity. Who Are You belongs to the most interesting category of Thai horror films, mixing lush cinematography with strong dramatic elements and some subtle arthouse influences (think Meat Grinder). This combination also makes it one of the least accessible categories though.
To get the most out of this film, some prior knowledge of the Hikikomori condition (young people locking themselves up in their own room for years on end, often threatening with suicide when people try to enter) comes in handy. I always figured this was a Japan only thing (we do get some footage from a Japanese documentary), but apparently other nations are struggling with these same issues as well. It's a rather surprising motive to use for a horror film, but Wonjinda proves it fits the genre extremely well, especially when you keep the camera outside the actual locked-down room for most of the film.
Who Are You sees a single mother struggling with her only son. She doesn't seem to be too concerned about his condition, until she runs into a documentary filmmaker who goes on the investigate the Hikikomori condition and proposes to make a documentary out of her son's case (don't worry, this is not a found-footage film). The mother gives her consent, but the boy isn't too happy with the plan. Things go from bad to worse and the real issues are slowly revealed, twisting themselves to a somewhat predictable yet effective finale.
Definitely the most striking aspect of Who Are You is the stellar use of color. Even though there are many night scenes, the shots remain colorful and vibrant throughout. Thai cinematography is known to be focused on strong and emotive colors, but Wonjinda takes it to a whole new level. The camera work itself is excellent too and even the few special effects found in the film are top notch quality.
The soundtrack too is strong, but it's definitely the overall sound design that impresses the most. The score provides plenty of atmosphere by itself, yet the addition of some subtle sound effects here and there give the film that extra edge to creep you out. It's interesting to see a rather simple scene become haunting just by adding the right effects to a soundtrack. I know music in films is a pet peeve of mine, this film clearly illustrates why I think it is such an important factor in the overall experience.
Apart from the intro, the acting is solid and straight-faced. The characters here aren't too demanding for the actors, but as there is a definite dramatic stretch in the plot at least some kind of decent performance was required. Not to worry though, the cast did what was needed and fair well in both the dramatic and the horror scenes.
Who Are You is not a perfect film though. It's not that I mind drama in a horror film, but halfway through the film practically grinds to a halt, forgetting about the horror and even the beautiful cinematography is axed in favor of some dramatic scenes. By itself this segment isn't all that bad, but it just doesn't compare to the rest of the film. Nearing the end Wonjinda picks up where he left before and does deliver a popping finale, which really helped to save the film for me.
As for the actual amount of horror, most of it happens off-screen. Don't expect to be shocked or horrified, Wonjinda is clearly not interested in all that. If you let the soundtrack do its work though, there are some very creepy scenes in here. But even those are mostly carried by the reigning atmosphere, so if by then you have decided this is not a very good film those scenes will probably lose all their effect, leaving you with very little.
Fans of Meat Grinder or likewise will probably love this film. It's lush, bursting with strong colors and lovely cinematography. Add a killer soundtrack and you have a worthwhile horror film that carries you through on style alone. There's even an interesting background motive and some drama added to the mix, which elevate the film further above generic horror fare. But people hoping for some standard horror fare might think twice before watching this.