The Thai director Pimpaka Towira’s second feature, “The Island Funeral,” is a road movie that’s as mesmerizing as it is tense. The film begins with three young adults — Laila (Heen Sasithorn); her brother, Zugood (Aukrit Pornsumpunsuk); and his unnamed pal (Yossawat Sittiwong) — standing by their idling car, wondering how to get to where they’re going. Laila is disdainful of her brother’s map-reading abilities, while the pal is frustrated that he can’t access GPS from his phone.
The three are not particularly voluble — they present quite a contrast to the motor-mouthed, pop-culture heads that American films invariably serve up when focusing on this age group. In between their bickering, they anxiously discuss news of oppression, unrest and terrorism in the far-from-Bangkok province they’re traveling to. (Their aim is to visit Laila and Zugood’s aunt.) Tensions over religious differences in the country get an airing.
On a night drive, which plays like a scene from a David Lynch film with the volume dialed way down, Laila believes she sees a woman fleeing some horror. Eventually they find themselves being taken by boat to a remote place where freedom still reigns — a place that, it is made plain, is dying.
The film moves at a slow pace, but it’s not quite as languorous as other contemporary Asian pictures. Ms. Towira’s shooting style is efficient and relatively unadorned in the first half. As the movie progresses, she adds something small to its minimalist vocabulary. When she resorts to a simple dissolve during the boat trip, for instance, the effect seems to turn the whole movie into something more enigmatic. For all the built-up dread in “The Island Funeral,” the movie ends on a note that’s both lyrical and terribly mournful.
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