Manta Ray (Kraben Rahu)

Thai film Manta Ray invokes Hitchcock, Lynch and Kubrick, standing up to the best of those influences. For those with a penchant for the strange and an eye for surrealist beauty, there are rich rewards here

Film Review by GK Bartholomew | 02 Jul 2019
  • Manta Ray
Film title: Manta Ray (Kraben Rahu)
Director: Phuttiphong Aroonpheng
Starring: Aphisit Hama, Wanlop Rungkumjad, Rasmee Wayrana

A forest at night. The camera moves through trees and foliage, picking details from the gloom. Suddenly a lone figure enters the frame, stalking and clutching an assault rifle accompanied by the electric buzz of the coloured fairy lights that cover his body.

This is how we're introduced to the sad and beautiful world of Manta Ray, and first-time director Phuttiphong Aroonpheng. It's not an entirely unfamiliar world. Those who know the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul will be in familiar territory. The narrative follows the woozy, dream-like logic of David Lynch, and there are elements of Harmony Korine's neon-soaked nightmares. But the film still manages to feel like the singular vision of a bold new talent.

The story – what there is of one – feels slight and indistinct. A fisherman discovers an injured man lying in the mud, and begins nursing him back to health. Part-way through the film, the rescuer disappears from the story, and the narrative switches to follow the rescued man. A woman arrives and bleaches his hair blonde, making him look like his absentee rescuer – and invoking Hitchcock's Vertigo. Aroonpheng builds a puzzling world of identity and loneliness. But to complain about the narrative’s obscurity would somehow miss the point.

For all its surreal elements, it’s when Aroonpheng shows us the everyday that the film feels at its most unreal. A hot spring is framed to look like an alien planet. An abandoned warship is shot like the baroque futurist bedroom at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Aroonpheng avoids the trappings of being 'weird for weird’s sake'. The film has a clear emotional centre, and is dedicated to 'the Rohingyas' – with many references to the ongoing tragedy that grips the Rohingya people. For those with a penchant for the strange and an eye for surrealist beauty, there are rich rewards here.

Manta Ray had its UK premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival and is released 28 Jun by Signature Entertainment

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