Those in the mood for midnight movie fare need look no further than Premika, an absolutely bugnuts karaoke-themed horror movie out of Thailand. It’s funny, it’s gross, and it’s even a bit heartbreaking. Premika is gonzo filmmaking at its best, and I kind of loved it, stupid as it is.
Premika is off-the-wall from moment one, when we see a girl’s living heart placed inside a karaoke machine. A group of singers and karaoke fans gather at a remote resort for a contest, little knowing that their lives are on the line, while a young police officer investigates a series of murders and disappearances. What none of them know is that the ghost of the murdered girl haunts the hotel, forcing guests into lethal karaoke challenges with escalating difficulty – if you can imagine the laser room scene from the first Resident Evil but with singing instead of lasers, you’d be on the right track.
The cast is a goofy assortment of local celebrities and comedians, with real singer Gena De Souza headlining as the titular ghost, decked out in a Japanese schoolgirl costume and smoky eye. There is a pair of skanky pop stars who have more cleavage than talent, a boy band with a soulful leader, fat brothers with bowl cuts, a bickering couple, and more grist for the mill. The characters are all silly caricatures played for comedy, but you can’t help but root for them in the karaoke challenges.
And those challenges are definitely the highlights of the film. Characters are transformed into full song-appropriate garb and forced to belt out standards for their lives – get the lyrics wrong, sing out of key, and you’re dead. And if that means having to get soulful in the middle of a haunted forest with ghosts singing back-up, so be it.
In a lot of ways, Premika reminded me of Hausu – it has a jittery energy and total disdain for typical movie logic that I found endearing. Premika is gory but also candy colored, full of horrific dismemberments and a tonally jarring backstory, but also making time for a full-on Scooby Doo chase scene. I mean, how can you not goggle at a film that foleys in the sound of a knife being drawn to underline enormous breasts? An “a-ooga,” a “boi-oi-oing,” sure, that’s old hat, but the sound of a blade being drawn that wouldn’t be out of place in a samurai drama? Madness.
It helps that, for what amounts to a slasher film, Premika is highly unpredictable. I could not tell who was meant to be the protagonist well into the film, and the deaths and survivals are genuinely unexpected, as was just how entertaining this hot mess is. I can’t wait to see what first-time director Siwakorn Charupongsa does next.
3 out of 4 stars (Very good). Premika plays as part of NYAFF on July 13.